Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rule 76: No excuses, play like a champion

For as long as I can remember, every time that I have seen a dramatic game come down to a questionable call by an official, there is always an immediate uproar by fans, players, coaches, and media members alike going to such extremes as calling for said official's head. And, after every time that I've seen this, I always find myself thinking about how petty it is that people can not accept the bottom line that their team did not rise to the occasion, and that they have to blame their team's under-achievements on the refs that, for the most part, did their job and did it pretty damn well. Fortunately for me, the majority of my life has not had a team in a situation like this.

That is, until last night.

With approximately 5 seconds left in game 3 of the NBA finals, the Cavaliers were down three points to San Antonio, and were inbounding the ball at mid-court. Everybody in attendance, everybody watching on TV, everybody in black jerseys, and everybody in white jerseys knew what was coming. Mr. 23 himself, LeBron James, had a chance to be the hero again. The shot was coming, and the Spurs had a foul to give. I mean, it is a logical move, right? With such little time on the clock, a foul would force LeBron to make one free throw, miss his next, rely on someone to get an offensive rebound, and put the ball in the hoop. Bruce Bowen thought the same thing, and when LeBron got that inbound pass, he went straight for the foul. LeBron, seeing this, picked the ball up and began his shooting motion while Bowen fouled, fully expecting to head to the line with a chance to tie the game. But there was a problem for our supposed hero. After jacking up that wild three, there was nothing but the cheers of the crowd, the clinging of the ball against the rim, and the sound of chaos as the outcome of the game died in the hands of a scuffle for the rebound. There was no shrill blow of the whistle, and there were no free throws. The game -- and essentially the Cavaliers' championship hopes -- over.

But you know what? This loss isn't the officials' fault. The foul may have been in plain sight, and it may have been a blown call, but no team that misses as many opportunities in one game (much less an NBA Finals game) as the Cavaliers did last night should expect to win. That missed three pointer can be argued, but what about the other 15 missed three point field goals? Or the fact that San Antonio shot 52.6% from beyond the arc? For such a defensive struggle, you would think that somebody, anybody would stick a hand in Bruce Bowen's face.

This isn't meant to take anything away from the Spurs, however. Parker's jump shot was in rare form, and nobody could have seen Bruce Bowen coming. Of course, the Spurs D was yet again tenacious. This post isn't meant to be a shot at the Spurs, but rather a call to the Cavaliers to -- at least once in this series -- play like they deserve to be here. That's why I titled this post with the famous Wedding Crasher's line "Rule 76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion." Anybody can blame an outcome on the officiating, that's easy to do. Any team in the NBA can do that. In fact, it's essentially the standard of professional basketball these days. But the Cavaliers are the Eastern Conference champions, and to be on this big of a stage and continue to make excuses puts them on the same level as all the teams sitting at home right now. I'm not asking that this team come back and win the championship, because that's a lost cause at this point. The Spurs have it in the bag and every one knows it. However, what I know that this team is capable of, is turning back into that old Cavalier team that we saw just a couple weeks ago. You know, that team that took an entire city on it's back, and despite being in an 0-2 hole to a much more experienced team, kept their heads on their shoulders and played like a group of professionals that gave a full and complete effort for four straight games? In that series against Detroit, one team displayed the utmost maturity as the other one self-destructed before our eyes. Had you told anyone before this season that the latter would be the Pistons, you would be mocked and laughed at. After that series, I was never more proud to say that I was a fan of that team. Not even when the Buckeyes won the championship in 2002, or when Troy Smith won the Heisman trophy last year.

This series may be a lost cause, but it's never too late to rekindle your pride. I just hope that the Cavs realize that between now and Thursday.

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