Just a short time ago things looked bleak for the NBA. The two most intriguing teams, Phoenix and Miami, were eliminated from the playoffs. The 2005 NBA Finals were to feature two defensive stalwarts, the Pistons and the Spurs. While these teams are the best at preventing other teams from scoring, the New York Sun’s Martin Johnson pointed out that this type of matchup is lost to the average viewer. (And questioned why defensive guru-turned tv analyst Hubie Brown doesn’t explain the finer points of the game while on the air). In fact my visiting father-in-law, who is not a sports fan, said that he doesn’t understand how a team could prevent the other from scoring.
To give those that wanted the Suns or Heat in the Finals something more to whine about, the first two games of the series were possibly the most lopsided in history. As if things weren’t dark enough, the shaddow of a work-stoppage hung over the league. When the player’s union head Billy Hunter resorted to the race card, it seemed inevitable that the lockout would cancel free agency and the summer leagues.
However something funny happened on the way to the Palace. The Pistons came roaring back, destroying the Spurs in Detroit, to tie the series. Game five was a classic, with everything a fan could have asked for. Arguably the game’s best player, Tim Duncan, couldn’t overcome his weakness and missed several free throws down the stretch. The Pistons, who led with time running down in overtime, seemed poised to go up 3-2 in the series, an improbable thought given the first two games. What was even less possible was that Robert Horry would score 21 points in the 4th & 5th quarters, the 21st sealing the victory for San Antonio.
If game 5 wasn’t enough to make the sun shine on the NBA, the players and owners agreed on a deal well over a week before the deadline. On the other hand the NHL has gone 281 days since their CBA expired, without any resolution. Facing elimination, the Pistons won a gritty game 6, forcing a final match. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to watch a game 7 that didn’t include my team. Unfortunately, for my mental well being, I’m not allowed to speak of the last Finals that went 7 games, but the one before that was decided by 3 points despite the Lakers being up by 15 to start the 4th. While an exciting start to the series could have made things more dramatic, the season is certainly ending well.