Thursday, June 17, 2010

NBA Finals Game 7 - Why not a bigger deal?

By Rick Morris

Tonight, the NBA Finals reached the seventh game for only the second time since 1994 and only the third since 1988, Lakers vs. Celtics no less, and yet it has been greeted with the collective shoulder shrug of a relatively disinterested nation. Why? There are a few reasons.

^ As was noted last night on THE FDH LOUNGE program, David Stern embraces 24-7 drama. "Just spell our names right" is the official mantra of the league. If you're talking about anything NBA, Stern is happy. As a result, when Dan Gilbert and Tom Izzo perpetrate a huge distraction in the middle of the Finals, Stern is perfectly OK with that. Had they tried that during the World Series or Super Bowl week if they were in those respective sports, those respective commissioners would have dispatched Mike the Cleaner from Breaking Bad to their doorsteps. The July 1 hoopla and everything even closely related to that (i.e. the coaching futures of Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers) is hanging over these games, depriving the league of the world's focus on the actual in-game action and nobody among the Powers That Be seems to care. The price they're paying for the game's off-court water cooler talk is the relevance of on-court action.

^ These teams are not inherently extremely exciting in terms of style. Most of the best players on both of these teams have a lot of city miles on them and the proficiency that each has in the defensive realm comes at the expense of exciting play. These ain't your father's Lakers and Celtics. And many of these games have really sucked.

^ The depth is a joke compared to the 1980s clashes between these teams. Essentially, the Lakers were doomed in this series two years ago because Andrew Bynum was unavailable. They were on their way to losing again this year because of Bynum's frail sticks until Kendrick Perkins went down and created a matchup problem the other way. When the health of key players threatens to drop an asterisk on the series' outcome, fan interest is bound to be compromised. Also, many key players on both teams can be woefully inconsistent. Pao Gasol can drop a 40-20 on you and just as easily come out as soft as dryer machine filter fuzz. Lamar Odom is one of the most maddening players in the league, equally capable of resembling a multiple-time All-Star or a developmental league refugee. Sheed is ... well, Sheed. Big Baby dropped to the second round of the draft not for lack of talent, but for lack of commitment and that's the main reason he's never garnered the minutes that his game would otherwise dictate. On and on it goes. Say what you will about James Worthy, Kevin McHale, the Chief and the rest of the '80s champions, but they showed up every night and you knew what you were going to get. How seriously can fans take a series when the number one question seems to be how many slackers will actually show up ready to ball?

^ Bad luck in terms of timing relative to the NHL. This year's six-game Stanley Cup Finals featured plenty of super-exciting action, but they also had less competition on the calendar. The World Cup had yet to start and golf's US Open was not overlapping with any of the championship series. Plus, in addition to the league's aforementioned self-induced off-court hoops stories, they're also competing for headlines with the fascinating reworking of the college sports landscape as each day brings new stories and speculation about who's going where. Football is king in this country and the prospect of a completely changed landscape in the NCAA is going to be front and center regardless of what else is transpiring.

^ Legacy fatigue is taking hold. The Yankees-Red Sox hysteria of the past decade has caused the alienation of everyone outside of those fanbases. The Red Wings have continued to be at the forefront of hockey with two titles and another Finals appearance since 2002. Tiger is bigger than anyone in golf has been since the Golden Bear was about three decades ago and Roger Federer has ruled the tennis world since 2003 like nobody ever has. The Boston/LA deal stood out in the '80s, especially with the Bird/Magic angle putting it over the top. Now? Not so much, especially when you've got to break out the Hot Tub Time Machine to see Boston's (former) Big Three at their best.

So what's the prediction for tonight? With Boston counting as much as they did down low on Perkins' bulk to push around the Lakers' fours and fives, they're in a tough spot without him -- much less being on the road, a scenario which is normally death in a Finals Game 7. Many of the biggest greats from the past will be in the building to watch their descendants carry out the latest phase of this rivalry. Regrettably, this grind-fest is unlikely to be worthy of the lineage. Lakers 93, Celtics 84.

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