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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cut--And Get Me Rewrite!

All the world's a stage--and sometimes the actors flip the script in the middle of the play. As I watched the Pistons-Heat game on TV today, I began composing this post, noting what seemed to be key themes. For instance, Shaquille O'Neal had his best first half scoring output of the season (21 points) and the Heat still trailed 59-49 at the break. I asked myself, "If Miami cannot keep up with Detroit with Shaq operating at peak efficiency, what chance do the Heat have to win a title?" Then, after Detroit showed that it had no answers for Shaq, Miami did the Pistons a big favor and stopped feeding the Diesel, who amazingly had no field goal attempts in the third quarter. I thought back to how often Shaq publicly blasted former teammate Kobe Bryant's style of play and lauded Dwyane Wade as his best teammate ever. With Wade having a miserable first half (nine points on 3-11 shooting from the field) and Shaq not receiving many touches in the third quarter I wondered if Shaq felt like reconsidering his previous statements.

Detroit led 84-71 at the end of the third period, their biggest margin all game, and Miami seemed to be headed for another disappointing loss. The outline of this post seemed to be crystal clear: Shaq gets the ball less in Miami than he did in L.A. when he was doing so much griping about Kobe, Miami is not a real championship contender, and Wade was doing basically what Kobe did playing alongside Shaq, only less effectively. Then Wade poured in 18 fourth quarter points, including the final 17 points by the Heat, capped off by nailing the game winning jumper with 2.3 seconds left. Tayshaun Prince missed a three pointer at the buzzer and the Heat won, 100-98. As a movie director might say, "Cut--and get me rewrite!"

So, what are we to make of this game? Certainly it was a stirring second half performance by the Heat, particularly Wade, who finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and four assists; that truly is like what Kobe did when he played with Shaq: closing out a win with clutch play down the stretch--a lot of people forget how often Kobe filled the "closer" role, even in games when Shaq might have had bigger overall numbers. Miami was coming off of an embarrassing 112-76 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night and has fared poorly against good teams all season. So this win was very timely for the Heat, but it is important to guard against the natural tendency to overreact to what we have most recently seen. Miami still has a poor record against good teams and Detroit is still the best team in the East. O'Neal (31 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) won three championships playing alongside Bryant and provided some much needed perspective with his postgame remarks, first stating the obvious--"It was a big win"--and then adding, "Anybody can win one game. Now we have to keep it going. We need any win, especially against the top teams." Detroit's Chauncey Billups (29 points and 10 assists) also cautioned against reading too much into one game: "It's just another win (for them) really. They might look at it as bigger than what it really is, but it is just another win against the team with the best record in the league." The Heat are now 1-7 against the NBA's top four teams (Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio).

The ebb and flow of this game epitomizes what is so wonderful about sports--unscripted drama. You can't write the story beforehand: you have to watch the action unfold, sitting on the edge of your seat, and only when the buzzer sounds do you know the identity of the winner and the loser.

During Julius Erving's last season, Tom Callahan wrote a wonderful article about Dr. J's Farewell Tour ("Dr. J is Flying Away," published in the December 22, 1986 issue of Time). Callahan quotes Dr. J saying, "Man makes plans, God laughs." This is as true of retiring legends as it is of championship contenders--and writers.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:57 PM

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