With the defending champions on the ropes, I couldn’t decide whether to keep another NBA Finals diary or not. Did anyone care about Game 3? Did I really feel like slaving through another game, especially with everyone in L.A. practically rioting in excitement over Phil Jackson’s return to the Lakers?
Then I received the following e-mail from New Orleans reader Frank M.: “Do you think Hubie Brown’s Julius Caesar haircut was forced on him by the ABC executives as a subliminal ploy to advertise ‘Empire’?”
Now that’s comedy. And that’s when I knew I needed to keep another diary especially when the Pistons were a mortal lock to win Game 3. Here’s what transpired
9:00 We’re off with another pregame montage and that same grating Rob Thomas song. If that stupid song is running through my head for the rest of the week, then I’m making it happen for you as well:
“This is it now everybody get down this is all I can take this is how a heart breaks!”
9:07 Longtime NBA fan Stevie Wonder plays the national anthem with his harmonica. Very cool. He’ll also be reffing tonight’s game with Dick Bavetta and Bennett Salvatore.
9:10 Is there anything funnier than the Pistons’ announcer staying on cruise control for the San Antonio introductions, then kicking it up about 730 notches for the Pistons introductions? It’s almost as though they plug him in. And does he pay royalties to the guy who played Cyrus from “The Warriors,” or did they work out a one-time fee?
9:16 Tonight’s referees: Bob Delaney, Joe Crawford and (drumroll please ) Mr. Bennett Salvatore! I can’t believe it! We have a home team in a must-win playoff situation and Salvatore was assigned to the game? That never happens!
9:18 What a start for the Pistons: A Ben Wallace three-point play and Manu Ginobili just banged knees with Tayshaun Prince (and quickly left the game). Has an NBA Finals game ever been decided within 21 seconds?
9:26 Big Ben just stuffed Tim Duncan’s turnaround, took a charge from Duncan and scored on an offensive rebound. Welcome to the Finals, Ben. Glad you could make it.
9:27 Just watched another “War of the Worlds” commercial, which reminds me: Despite all the joy he’s provided me over the years, I’m not sure if I can forgive Tom Cruise for what he’s done to Katie Holmes. This is the same girl who allowed SNL’s Mr. Peepers to spit apple all over her face four years ago and went topless in “The Gift” just for the hell of it now she’s whispering “I love you” on Oprah, shamelessly plugging movies and embracing Scientology? This is an outrage. I’m outraged. This never would have happened if she had stayed with Dawson.
9:30 Six minutes into the game, Ben Wallace is on pace for 56 points, 24 rebounds, 24 blocks and eight steals. Warrants mentioning.
9:33 The news on Ginobili: Thigh contusion. Uh-oh.
(But seriously, is there a luckier team than the Pistons? Last spring, they lucked out with Jason Kidd’s knee, the Derek Fisher shot and Karl Malone’s injury. Last November, the Pacers looked like the best team in the East before the Artest Melee turned everything around. Last week, Miami was about to finish them off before Wade went down. And now, they’re down 2-0 and the leading candidate for Finals MVP goes down 21 seconds into Game 3. I’m not saying good luck is something that should penalize them historically believe me, I’m a Patriots fan, I would never insinuate such a thing. But Detroit’s run of good fortune is almost unprecedented, don’t you think? At the rate we’re going, Duncan is going to be accidentally ejected from the Spurs’ charter on the way back to San Antonio.)
9:34 Hubie on Rasho Nesterovic’s entrance: “It’s nice to bring in a guy, 7-feet, who is an excellent defender who can block shots and rebound, and is also playoff experienced.”
Wow. If he’s that nice to Rasho, what would he say about Darko? “It’s nice to bring in a guy, 7-feet, who’s, um well, he’s 7-feet.”
9:43 Hey, remember when I wrote how I wouldn’t make fun of Coach K’s AmEx ads because he was donating the profits to charity? Well, some North Carolina fans reminded me of something even if he’s doing the ads for free, you couldn’t ask for better propaganda for recruiting purposes, could you? It’s almost like a presidential candidate being the only one allowed to broadcast national commercials. Just a devious move by Coach K. I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student. I want you to develop as a human being. And I want to show you how I can avoid some NCAA recruiting rules.
9:45 Put it this way: Kay Corleone was more assertive in “The Godfather” than Prince has been in this series. What a disappointment.
9:47 Here’s why the Spurs are a great team: They just survived a first quarter in which their best perimeter guy was injured and Ben Wallace was on pace for a quadruple-triple on the road, in a must-win game for the other team and yet they’re leading by two. As James Lipton would say, “Well done, my friend.”
9:50 “You take a hit now you feel it break down make you stay wide awake this is how a heart breaks!”
(Is it running through your head yet? I’m going to keep trying. Just wait.)
9:52 An alley-oop to Prince pulls Detroit within two and wakes the crowd up. I think it’s time for another Jay Leno joke. Ready? “Did you hear Rip Hamilton signed a clothing deal for the NBA Finals? That’s right, he’s wearing Bruce Bowen.” Thank you, thank you. Stick around, we’ll be right back with Matt LeBlanc!
9:53 Crawford whistles Duncan for a technical after botching a foul call. I’m 60 percent sure that’s actually Dick Bavetta wearing Crawford’s face, kind of like the scene in “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter escapes wearing the security guard’s face. If they find Crawford’s body bleeding from the trap door of an elevator tonight, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
10:01 With the Pistons leading by one, Billups passes up an easy three-on-one for a pull-up 3 that missed. I think he’s trying to kill Hubie Brown. Seriously. Two more of those and Hubie is going to keel over on live TV.
10:07 Does it get any dumber than the “These 2005 Finals are being broadcast in 45 languages over 105 different countries, and just in case you don’t believe us, here’s some live action with two French guys doing the play-by-play” gimmick? What’s my reaction supposed to be? Yup, those guys are speaking French all right. They weren’t kidding.
10:08 We see a somber David Stern sitting in the stands with a “Screw this game, I’m going to crush the players’ union this summer, that’s all I can think about,” look on his face. He’s the best.
10:10 Yet another mystery solved: Stu Scott reports that Hamilton wears the Schnozzaroo Mask because his nose has been broken three times. According to Stu, if it gets broken one more time, there won’t be any cartilage left. Looks like we have a new leading contender to buy the Neverland Ranch. By the way, in the past three minutes, we’ve heard English, French and Stu Scott.
10:17 With 2:30 remaining in the first half, we’re knotted up at 36. This game has been a solid C-plus so far. In other words, it’s been the best game of the series.
10:20 Classic Robert Horry moment: With the Pistons ready to execute a go-ahead fast break layup, the crowd ready to explode and Michaels and Hubie ready to mention for the 400th time tonight that Ben Wallace is having a great game, Big Shot Bob comes flying from the weak side to block Hamilton’s layup, then drains a go-ahead 3 on the the other end. “Wow, you love Robert Horry’s game,” gushes Hubie, who has decided to speak exclusively in the second person tonight.
10:23 Don’t forget that on Saturday, folks the Phoenix Mercury are taking on the New York Liberty at 4 p.m. on ABC. Meanwhile, Billups just clocked Tony Parker with a Macho Man Savage-like elbow that even Crawford had to call. At least the Pistons are whacking guys tonight. Only took three games.
10:24 Graphic of the night: Parker’s favorite movie is “Face/Off.” See, these are the things I need to know. Apparently he wasn’t bothered by the fact that John Travolta outweighed Nic Cage by 25 pounds in that movie and had a head that was twice the size, but they somehow easily switched faces halfway through the movie. Don’t get me started. I’m not even kidding I could write 3,500 words on “Face/Off.” Remember, I’m the same guy who gave you 2,100 on “Youngblood.” Don’t underestimate me.
10:25 Our halftime score: Spurs 42, Pistons 41. Now, you’re the Pistons. You’re playing at home. You got a nice gift with Ginobili’s injury 21 seconds into the game. You have Ben Wallace playing out of his mind. And you’ve only been whistled for six fouls. And yet, you’re still losing. You can’t be happy right now.
(Whoops now I’m doing it.)
10:37 Tonight’s halftime feature on Rip Hamilton is being narrated by former “Diff’rent Strokes” star Conrad Bain. All right, I made that up. It’s Jamie Foxx again. If the NBA playoffs were the Red Sox, I think Jamie Foxx would be Ben Affleck.
10:42 From reader Mike in St. Louis: “You think they could do one of those halftime caring and sensitive shows about Latrell Sprewell’s kids? They could go through the daily struggle they have to go through to get a meal.”
10:50 Two minutes into the third, the Spurs are leading by one and the Pistons desperately need a momentum change. Is it too late for them to stick a beer-throwing John Green three rows behind the Spurs bench? Or should they have Ben Wallace’s brother charge into the Spurs’ huddle and inexplicably start punching Tony Parker from behind?
10:54 Well, something clicked. After Hamilton scores consecutive baskets to put Detroit up by five, Gregg Popovich calls timeout and gets the inevitable “That’s an excellent timeout!” compliment from Hubie. I think Hubie needs to release a coffee-table book called, “My 100 Favorite Timeouts of All Time.” Wouldn’t you pay $29.95 for that thing?
11:00 Highlight of the game: A beautiful alley-oop from Hamilton to Big Ben, followed by a shot of Eminem happily waving a towel in the stands and an eight-second pause before Al Michaels said, “Eminem waving the towel.” Seriously, what are the odds that Al recognized Eminem without a spotter or producer pointing it to him? Ten to one? Twenty to one?
11:02 San Antonio immediately rolls off six straight to force a Brown timeout. Solid game. It’s moving up to a B-minus.
11:06 Celebs on hand tonight: Eminem, Kid Rock, Anita Baker, Thomas Hearns more important, Al just identified Eminem as “Marshall Mathers,” leading to this exchange:
Al: “Eminem, as you know, is Marshall Mathers what, you don’t know this?
(Hubie does the Hubie Chuckle.)
Al: Not only that, I have an iPod and Stuart Scott does not, which is the most amazing thing ”
(Hubie does a louder Hubie Chuckle.)
Al: “You and I are in the 19th century, Stuart’s in the 22nd century, and Stuart Scott doesn’t have an iPod.”
(Hubie does the full-fledged Hubie Chuckle.)
First of all, I’m practically speechless. Second of all, what’s on Al Michaels’ iPod? Is there any way we can get the guys who hacked Paris Hilton’s Sidekick to hack into this thing? I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight. Al Michaels has an iPod? Let’s just stop the Finals right now.
11:12 Stu Scott tells a story about Ben Wallace’s wife being disappointed in his play, and ends with, “Al, if Mama ain’t happy at home, ain’t nobody happy, you know?” Holla.
11:15 With Beno Udrih subbing for Parker, Detroit traps him twice and gets two steals at midcourt. Why didn’t they try that tactic sooner? He’s the Slovenian Chris Corchiani. And yes, the Pistons just rolled off a 10-0 run before a Horry bucket to end the quarter. It’s 70-65, Pistons they answered the bell. With Ginobili limping around, methinks this series could be going five.
11:20 “This is it now everybody get down this is all I can take this is how a heart breaks! This is it now everybody get down this is all I can take this is how a heart breaks! This is it now everybody get down this is all I can take this is how a heart breaks! This is it now everybody get down this is all I can take this is how a heart breaks!
11:21 Hey, did you know that Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich are best friends?
11:26 78-69, Pistons. They’re playing well; the Spurs are playing like crap. That’s my hard-core analysis. By the way, every time they show that Dockers commercial with The The’s “This Is the Day” playing in the background, a little piece of my soul dies.
11:33 With Antonio McDyess draining 20-footers, the Spurs shift into “Let’s not show them anything else so we can save our best for Game 4” mode. Did anyone really think the defending champs would roll over in Game 3? I sure didn’t. They’re on a 23-6 run right now.
11:39 Shot of Stevie Wonder clapping happily in the stands. See, that would be the best job you could have in a posse the “Guy sitting in fantastic seats who tells Stevie Wonder what’s transpiring in an NBA Finals game” job.
11:42 Classic replay of Prince throwing Horry out of bounds as Wallace launches a 3, with Horry almost crashing into referee Bob Delaney, who was watching the whole thing happen only Delaney didn’t call anything. There’s absolutely no question that David Stern will have that sequence digitally erased from the 2005 Finals DVD.
11:45 With 3:30 remaining, Ginobili misses a wide-open 3 to cut Detroit’s lead to nine. Hubie sums up everyone’s sentiments: “Not in the cards today, Al.” By the way, the “Ginobili for Finals MVP” bandwagon just careened into a telephone pole.
11:45 Another sequence you won’t be seeing on the Finals DVD: Rasheed dribbling the ball off his foot out of bounds, followed by Crawford calling it Pistons ball whaaaaaaaaaat? and Horry having a full-scale meltdown in disbelief, then Hamilton draining a 3 to ice the game. The lesson, as always: You will see hell freeze over before you see another NBA Finals sweep.
11:46 This “Dukes of Hazzard” movie I mean aren’t there any new ideas from the last 20 years? How long before they turn “Silver Spoons” into a movie? What about “Manimal” or “BJ and the Bear”? Those haven’t been done yet. Everyone’s wondering why box office numbers are down did you ever think it’s because we’re spending billions of dollars remaking shows from the ’70s and ’80s instead of coming up with new ideas? This drives me crazy.
(By the way, don’t get me wrong I’m absolutely seeing the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie.)
11:49 Two days ago on ABC, Bill Walton was handing the trophy to the Spurs and suggesting that the Pistons had quit on their coach. Right now, he’s gleefully yelling, “What do they call it? Deeeeetroit basketball!” and “It’s going to be a very long week for the San Antonio Spurs.”
(Hold on a second, I just got whiplash watching him do that 180. Lemme find my bearings here. Just give me a second.)
11:56 Our final score: Detroit 96, San Antonio 79.
Here’s why Detroit won: Because any team with even a semblance of a heart should win Game 3 at home when it’s down 2-0 Ginobili (seven points, six turnovers) injured his leg 21 seconds into the game Duncan stunk Hamilton (11-for-23) wasn’t missing easy shots like he did in Games 1 and 2 Billups managed the second half about as well as you could manage a game Wallace (15 points, 11 boards, five blocks) finally decided to show up for the series McDyess and Hunter always play better at home with the crowd behind them they crashed the boards for a whopping 17 offensive rebounds And the Spurs didn’t play well. There’s nothing else to say.
(Well, except for one thing: If Ginobili is healthy, the Spurs will win Game 4. Mark my words.)
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.