Friday, April 24, 2009

Wisdom and Inspiration from the Unlikeliest of Sources

The Detroit Pistons have done almost nothing right. They haven't contained LeBron. They haven't rebounded the ball. They have gotten almost no production from their three starting frontcourt players. They failed to come out with any energy in either of the first two games. Michael Curry continues to be in way over his head, looking more confused with each game, while cementing himself as quite possibly the least innovative coach in playoff history. The Pistons trudge home trailing 2-0 to the Cavs, the team that won an NBA best 80% of their basketball games during the regular season. With all that being said, however, I can't help but be reminded of the final scene from one of the more underrated films of the last few years: Music and Lyrics. Just stay with me here.

In the movie, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a former pop star of the 80's and is trying to resurrect his career by writing a hit song for a new teen sensation. He recruits the help of Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), and together they pen a fantastic song. He provides the music, her the lyrics...hence, the clever title. However, as the big concert at Madison Square Garden approaches, their seemingly flawless partnership becomes rocky. A big disagreement ensues over the final cut of the song, and Alex fires off a hurtful rant aimed at Sophie and her inability to "live in the real world." Needless to say, it didn't go over well and she started making plans to move down to Florida. For all intents and purposes, he was dead to her. He'd failed to stand by her when it came to the song, and made things worse with his insensitive diatribe. Hell, even I wanted to slap him. But Alex had one more bullet in his chamber: a surprise opening number at the Garden. With Sophie in attendance, Alex sat down at the piano and poured his emotions out through a song he'd written just the night before. The name of the song..."Don't Write Me Off." Essentially, it was an admission of guilt and responsibility for all things gone wrong to that point...but he was still there...and wanted one more chance. Just like our Pistons.

This Pistons team is on the brink of losing their fans. Heck, they might've already. The passionless regular season has bled right on through to the playoffs. While in the past the Pistons were able to shrug off inconsistent efforts with guarantees of improvement in the following game, that is no longer the case. One poor outing simply leads to another...and another. And while coming home should be viewed as a positive thing, these Pistons were just one game over .500 at the Palace for the year. The number of Cavs road wins (27) dwarfs that of the Pistons total at home (21). It's almost impossible to find any silver lining with the current state of this squad. But then I'm reminded of Music and Lyrics...and the lines to Alex Fletcher's touching final melody.

"And while I know, based on my track record,

I might not seem like the safest bet

All I'm asking don't write me off, just yet."

Any number of Pistons could have written that previous stanza, and it would have made perfect sense. After all, none of these guys seem like the "safest bet..."

Rodney Stuckey looked more composed during last year's playoffs. This time around, he has become a dribbling machine (not a good thing), in the process obliterating any notion that he is close to being a starting point guard in this league.

Rasheed Wallace is a shell of his former self, and hasn't sniffed a 20-point game for over two months.

Tayshaun Prince has always been the consummate pro and the ultimate team guy, but at what point do his playoff disappearances earn him a ticket to another city??

Jason Maxiell is a tireless worker, but it irks me that he comes back every single year with the same broke approach from the free throw line.

There is no doubt how badly Antonio McDyess wants to win...but it's looking more and more like his body can't keep up with his will. The effort is unquestioned, but he's running on fumes now. Watching Dyess get beat to loose balls and long rebounds by Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been the most depressing sight of the whole series.

Kwame Brown just makes me miss Elden Campbell.

I like Walter Herrmann as much as the next guy, but I have never seen a guy call for the rock more times during a game. Every single time Walter is on offense, he makes his way to one of the corners and begins waving his arms frantically like that wide open receiver at the end of Necessary Roughness.

Arron Afflalo...the only mystery here is whether Mark Jackson will ever actually pronounce his name correctly before the series ends. "Afollo is doing a nice job on D tonight."

Will Bynum has done all he can in very limited time. You know how I feel about this.

Some Pistons take the losses hard mentally and physically. Take head trainer Mike Abdenour, for instance. "Abs" seems to be getting significantly shorter with each demoralizing loss. I have no evidence to back this up, but I wouldn't be surprised if after this series Abdenour ends up checking in at right under 4 feet. Just a theory.

And Rip Hamilton. He needs to regain that swagger he carried around in 1999 when he was the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tourney, leading his UCONN Huskies to a title. Sure, he had reason to moan and groan when his best friend Chauncey Billups was traded, but you would have liked for him to instead turn it into a tremendous personal opportunity. This was never his team before. Now it is.

So now we come back to tonight. The Pistons can enter this game one of two ways.

They can come in like the Columbus Blue Jackets did in Game 3 of their series with the Red Wings. The Jackets came home behind 2-0 in the series, and proceeded to get thrashed by the Wings. They were obviously a heavy underdog, but you did not see the type of desperation you come to expect from a team on the brink of elimination.

Or they can be the Utah Jazz from last night. The Jazz are the #8 seed out West, as the Pistons are in the East. After the Lakers took a commanding 2-0 lead, the Jazz were faced with a must-win situation in Salt Lake. Trailing by eight entering the final quarter, Carlos Boozer decided they were not going out like that. Twelve inspiring minutes later, they had their hard-earned victory and were back in the series.

"And though I know,
I've already blown more chances

Than anyone should ever get

All I'm asking you is... don't write me off just yet.

Don't write me off just yet."

You watch your team all year long to get to this point. You stay up for the 5 games in 7 nights out west. You fight through the blowouts, the flat performances, and the collapses against inferior competition. You put up with the fake injuries (Iverson) and the fake coaches (Curry). Because there's just something special about watching your team in the playoffs. Whereas you're rooting for them to win during the regular season, you almost yearn for them to win in the playoffs. You hate to think about the door finally slamming shut on the season, and you get a pit in your stomach when you can tell the end is near. I still remember that same empty feeling during the final quarter against Miami in '06 when it became clear the Pistons would not be returning to the Finals for a 3rd straight year.

The above lyric says it best. The Pistons have indeed "blown more chances than anyone should ever get." Their performance this season has lacked the proper emotion, desire, and determination necessary to win in the NBA. Those facts are undeniable. But when the series tally says the Cavs only have "2" and they need "4," that means there is still basketball to be played. So maybe Stuckey can settle down. And Sheed can score 20. And Tayshaun can impact the game...somehow. And Maxiell can make one from the line. And Dyess can pump just a little more gas into that tank. And maybe Rip can take over. Because if Sophie Fisher was able to forgive Alex Fletcher for all his past wrongdoings and not "write him off just yet," I can do the same for these Pistons. Let's just hope they haven't written themselves off, already...

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