The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

ECF: Game 3: positive thinking

Posted by disappointmentzone on 26 May 2007

So the Cavs suffered two crushing blows at the hands of the Pistons in Detroit. That’s the bad news. The good news is the the Cavs could have won both games easily. Cavs show up in the third quarter? 2-0, Cleveland. Marshall and James? Refs? Hughes? Andy? come through in the clutch? 2-0, Cleveland. Refs pull their whistles out of their throats? 2-0, Cleveland.

Now the scene shifts to Cleveland.

If the Cavs can hold home court against the Pistons then I give the team a greater than 50% chance of beating Detroit. That’s right. If the Cavs head back to Detroit 2-2 then I like where the Cavs are sitting.

There is no amount of magical thinking that will allow the Pistons to overcome the thought that they are lucky to be leaving Detroit without dropping at least one game. The Pistons can give all the lip service they want about how “both teams played hard” or whatever it is they are saying so that their quotes don’t show up on the bulletin boards in the Cavs’ locker room, but the Pistons clearly think they are far superior to the Cavs. You know how Tim Duncan overtly exculpates himself after every slight infraction, eyes bulging from a head cocked in disbelief, unsure how it is that a referee could whistle him for a foul? That sort of attitude is born from a deeply-held belief in one’s superiority. The Pistons have reacted in a similar fashion after every whistle this series, and the actions are clear: the Pistons think they are above the Cavs and that the margin is not even close.

So how is it that the Cavs have twice held the lead in the fourth quarter? How is it that the Pistons have had to rely on their good fortune twice (Marshall missing an open three; Hughes missing a dinker) in order to win?

After a few days one thing has become crystal clear: the Cavs lost the first two games. The Pistons won both games, but they did not win both games. The difference is slight but the importance is undeniable.

The Pistons have not played like a team that is of a different order than the Cavs. The Pistons are aging, they are undersized, and they lack the sort of verve you see in some of the faces of the Cavs. They act as though they are entitled to a place in the NBA Finals, but their performance so far does not suggest they do.

And there is no way that thought has escaped their minds. Deep down the Pistons must realize how lucky they are to be up 2-0 on a team that has played two terrible second halves, on a team plagued by no-calls and missed shots.

If the Cavs come out Sunday night and avoid their typical problems — sluggish third quarter, referee discrimination, Larry Hughes — then they should win decidedly. The Pistons will chalk it up to “taking care of home court” and “doing what they are supposed to do”. It’s what the Pistons did last year. It’s what the Pistons will do this year. It’s what the Pistons do.

But make no mistake: that little kernel of honesty in every Piston heart telling them that the Cavs aren’t a doormat, telling them that they should be thankful they aren’t down 3-0, that kernel will soften and grow.

And if the Cavs win game 4, suddenly that kernel will grow into the sort of doubt that can’t be put out of mind. Going back to Detroit the Pistons will be riding a losing streak and the Cavs will be hot. Given the margin in the first two games of the series, confidence may be all the Cavs need in order to pull out a win. And if they do — look out.

The Cavs could have eliminated the Pistons last year. They botched their chance and everyone chalked it up to a valuable learning experience.

It’s time to cash in.

Win two in Cleveland and it’s a whole new series.

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