Friday, May 19, 2006

Tonight, Tonight

I have to miss most of the Cavs-Pistons game tonight. Devastating, I know (more so because it means I’ll also miss most of the Mets-Yankees). This is what you get when your chosen field is in the high supply-low demand mold and you’re forced to work a job that lets you out at 9:00 on Friday nights. Normally, 9:00 isn’t so bad; I can still grab dinner and beers with friends afterwards and not really miss anything. Well, except for Friday Night Baseball and the NBA playoffs.

Of course, I’ll be out and ready for the Mavs-Spurs game, and while that will be worth my two and a half hour time investment, it just won’t be Detroit-Cleveland. No matter how many game-changing threes Dirk makes, no matter how many times Tim Duncan schools his defender(s), no matter how many times I see Michael Finley get ball tapped, it won’t measure up to what will take place at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

This isn’t just any Game Six. This isn’t just the defending champs, once up two games to none, now on the brink of elimination on the road. This isn’t about coaching strategy, and this isn’t about five guys playing as a cohesive unit.

[MORE]This is about LeBron James becoming The Man. Because tonight is the night. He’s led his team to three straight victories, including an effort to top all efforts last Saturday, on the cusp of being down three games to none. And now he has a chance to seal it up, at home, not faced with the pressures of an elimination game. If there was ever a time to become The Man, it’s tonight.

Let’s get one thing straight: if Detroit wins tonight, they’re winning Game Seven. It’s like the 2004 ALCS (pardon my frequent Yankees allusions). Heading back to Yankee Stadium, we all knew that if the Yankees dropped Game Six, it was over. So when the final out was recorded, we all sulked and tried to muster up one last ounce of faith that they could pull out a Game Seven with Kevin Brown on the hill. But in our hearts, we knew that it was over. That’s why I drove 35 miles from New Brunswick, NJ, back to my buddy Jon’s place. I just couldn’t be around 30,000 kids when the Yankees capped their monumental choke.

The looming question is whether LeBron recognizes this. If he is to be The Man, his instincts will have to take over. He’ll have to realize, without thinking much about it, that if his team loses tonight, it’s all over. That no matter how hard he plays, no matter how many magical moves he pulls out of his back pocket, it won’t be enough to overcome the Pistons in a Game Seven. They’re too good, too experience, and too well coached (nothing against Flip Saunders, but I’m referring to the lingering effects of Larry Brown) to drop Game Seven at home after winning Game Six on the road.

One might argue that they’re too good to lose tonight, and that very well may be the case. After three straight losses, the time seems ripe for a sleeping giant to be awoken. But even if Detroit plays spot-on basketball, LeBron can overcome. That is, if he makes his final metamorphosis into The Man. He has the skills, he has the instincts, and he has the home crowd in a frenzy behind him.

Asking a 21-year-old (though he looks 30) to be The Man can be considered outrageous expectations. Jordan wasn’t The Man in his third NBA season, let alone at 21 years of age. But he sure knows what’s in the offing if he emerges victorious.