Friday , Jun , 24 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Finals 2005: Notes from a Game Seven

‘Twas the night of game seven, and all through the ‘hood/Not a creature was stirring, ’cause it was all good.

It’s a quarter to midnight in a small neighbourhood on the south coast of England, and you could hear a pin land on a pillow in the streets. Not a single light shows from the apartment block across the way, every household apparently slumbering soundly. It’s as if the whole world is unaware that the biggest game of the year is a few hours from tipping off.

<b>NBA Finals 2005</b>: <I>Notes from a Game Seven</I>“/>I’m not sleeping, though.</p>
<p>With a banquet of fried chicken, lemonade and pie fit for a fat kid laid out before me, I’m all set to take in the deciding contest of the league’s first seven-game finals series since Patrick’s Knicks took Hakeem’s Rockets the distance.  I’ve posted up on my sofa with a laptop and the aforementioned snacks, ready to take notes on events as I see them.  What follows are my unedited, real-time comments on the run-up to the contest, the game itself and the aftermath. </p>
<p>— It’s several hours until the ball goes up, and in my monomania I’d forgotten that there was a universe outside of this game.  I’ve just read that Shawn Bradley has announced his retirement from the NBA.  After more than a decade of wondering when he was going to reach his potential as a number two pick, we discover that he never will.  Rest in peace, S-Breezy.  You’re in a better place now, somewhere they can’t dunk on you any more. </p>
<p>— The game is running against an episode of <I>Fear Factor</I>.  I haven’t yet decided if that’s ironic or not. </p>
<p>— I can’t be held accountable for my actions if I hear another “analyst” claim that Chauncey Billups “has ice-water running through his veins.” </p>
<p>— Six minutes following that last note, an analyst claims that Chauncey Billups “has ice-water running through his veins.”  The shoe I hurl across the room narrowly misses a vase perched precariously on the windowsill.  The piece of chicken doesn’t. </p>
<p>— It’s ten minutes until television coverage begins, and I’ve developed a condition best described as “ants in the pants”.  I’ve been looking forward to this game so much that my toes have begun to itch.  Either that, or my athlete’s foot is back with a vengeance. </p>
<p>— Reading the schedule for the British sport channels only confirms how little respect the game is given on this side of the pond.  The following excerpt from the television guide should give you an idea of what I mean. </p>
<p>	Sky Sports 1: Hong Kong Soccer Sevens<br />
	Sky Sports 2: Polo<br />
	Sky Sports 3: World Eight Ball Pool Championship<br />
	Sky Sports Extra: Live NBA Basketball</p>
<p>Is basketball really of a lesser importance here than seven-a-side football, polo and pool?  We gets no love. </p>
<p>— “The NBA Finals: Where Legends are Born” is displayed on the screen as coverage begins, and it hits me: we’re watching history as it happens.  I’ll remember what happens tonight until I’m an old man. </p>
<p>— Expecting to be tired (the game doesn’t begin until two in the morning here), I bought an energy drink in the afternoon.  As the countdown to the tip-off begins, I realise that I won’t be needing it. </p>
<p>— Either Tim Duncan is finding this rendition of the national anthem particularly moving, or he’s feeling the pressure of the situation.  I think he just swallowed his gum. </p>
<p>— The crowd lets the Pistons know they’re not exactly welcome in the building.  Rasheed, of course, receives the most spirited chorus of boos. </p>
<p>— The Big Fundamental is announced as dance music from the early ’90s plays through the loudspeakers.  It’s an interesting combination, but it works like peanut butter and jam. </p>
<p>— As the players take the court, I can see my heart pounding through my shirt.  They should run a health warning before this sort of game. </p>
<p>—Duncan draws first blood, finishing one of his goofy dribble-drives with a patented bank-shot. </p>
<p>— The referees miss an obvious travel call on Hamilton, letting Ben Wallace get away with a double-dribble moments later.  It’s not only the players that are nervous right now. </p>
<p>— We’re a few minutes into the contest, and Big Ben has scored four points already.  Something isn’t right. </p>
<p>— The hummingbird may be the only creature in the animal kingdom that can move its limbs faster than Tony Parker.  Even the cameraman is having a hard time keeping up with him as he moves around the perimeter. </p>
<p>— Ben Wallace scores again.  He’ll be shooting threes next. </p>
<p>— As expected, Detroit goes to Chauncey on the block early on.  The media has made much of his strength advantage over Parker.  He scores and Pop stops the game for a quick chat with his boys.  As the action pauses for a moment, I realise how frenzied the pace has been thus far.  The opening minutes of this game have looked more like a Dallas-Phoenix match than the defensive battle this one should be. </p>
<p>— Bones enters the game and immediately puts two on the board.  Who said old people were useless? </p>
<p>— Wallace has his shot swatted onto the board from behind.  Now you know what it feels like, Ben. </p>
<p>— With a little over four minutes left in the first, Detroit already has four team fouls.  Sending a message is one thing, but picking up petty fouls is another. </p>
<p>— The feed stops for a moment, causing my heart to do likewise.  If I had been denied this game, I might have had to kill somebody.  Thankfully for my potential victims, the picture is restored after a few seconds, and the blood begins to move around my body again. </p>
<p>— “The thing you have to remember is that the winner of this game wins the whole series.”  The man who spoke these words was introduced as an “expert analyst” before the game began. </p>
<p>— Horry’s first free throw bricks off the front of the rim.  Even Big Shot Bob looks unsettled. </p>
<p>— Bob ices a three from the corner. </p>
<p>— Horry scores again.  Maybe I should shut up. </p>
<p>— Brent Barry goes down very hard and writhes on the floor for a few seconds.  The arena falls silent for a moment.  He’s back on his feet soon enough, however. </p>
<p>— Hamilton makes an instinctive poke at the ball as Brent Barry cocks it back for the fast-break dunk, knocking it loose and denying him the easy bucket. </p>
<p>— The first quarter ends with the Spurs up eighteen to sixteen.  I know this was always going to be a war of attrition, but I’ve put up more than eighteen in a quarter by myself a couple of times this season.  The moronic analyst I quoted earlier remarks that this is a low-scoring game as if he’s making some remarkable insight.  From now on, I’m muting the television whenever he speaks. </p>
<p>— Dice is called for grappling with Timmy in the post.  Knowing that it’s going to be a battle in and around the paint, the officials are sending a message. </p>
<p>— Bruce Bowen appears to drop his defender on a forward-and-back dribble move.  There are now two reasons to call him <I>The Bowen Collector</I>.</p>
<p>— Manu performs a wacky crossover at the top of key while totally open.  You have to love the guy. </p>
<p>— David Robinson is shown on the big screen, and he still looks healthy enough that he could suit up and contribute.  The way he’s moving towards the court makes it look as if he might try to. </p>
<p>— The coverage switches to the Palace of Auburn Hills, and I recognise someone in the crowd.  It’s a small world. </p>
<p>— Timmy ain’t scared no mo’, even if he is missing shots. </p>
<p>— ‘Sheed and Manu clash knees.  Rasheed comes off worse. </p>
<p>— The ball goes out and the referees decide to jump it.  The replay clearly shows that it touched Manu last.  Odd plays can make a huge difference in games such as this one. </p>
<p>— Detroit commits a shot clock violation, and Rasheed picks up his third foul seconds later.  These are bad signs for the Pistons. </p>
<p>— Horry takes a shot to the chops and stays down while the crowd expresses its dissatisfaction.  One guy in the front row looks ready to rush the floor and set off another royal rumble.  Fortunately, no cups are thrown, and the game continues. </p>
<p>— One commentator jokingly remarks that Tony Parker must have used his “French charm” to hook up with Eva Longoria.  Tony Parker is Belgian.  I’m now muting the television whenever play stops. </p>
<p>— Manu is all water from three, and Ben Wallace responds with his second dunk in consecutive offences to tie the game up at thirty-three. </p>
<p>— Ben Wallace dunks for the third straight play.  He now leads all scorers with twelve.  He really chose the right time to show up offensively. </p>
<p>— T.P. puts in a gorgeous reverse to cap a long drive.  That’s why Mrs. Solis wants a piece of the Parker pie. </p>
<p>— Manu looks surprised when he’s hacked across the arms with a little over a second left in the half and nothing is called.  This isn’t Italy, bro.  Once he starts taking four steps on the way to the bucket like every other guard in the league, he’ll have realised what the NBA is about. </p>
<p>— Being interviewed on the way to the locker-room, Ben Wallace notes that the thing which has most surprised him about this game is that it was tough and that both teams were playing very hard.  Did nobody tell him that this was game seven of the NBA finals? </p>
<p>— You know you’re a real fan when you set up a series of mirrors so that you can take a bathroom break without missing the halftime highlights. </p>
<p>— At the half, the analysts discuss the players who become free agents this summer.  Is this really the time? </p>
<p>— The “expert analyst” strikes again, this time suggesting that Detroit should look to score more points than San Antonio in the second half.  I won’t forget to mute him again.  I’m about to claim that I should be there instead of him when I realise that I’m too ugly to work in television.  Just be glad they don’t run my picture with these articles. </p>
<p>— Tim Duncan lands in a heap, clutching either his ribs or something a little further south.  It turns out to be his ribs which are hurt.  I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. </p>
<p>— Rasheed picks up his fourth foul less than a minute into the third quarter. </p>
<p>— Hamilton hits an awkward runner over Duncan and Bowen, drawing a foul in the process.  The way the stadium lights shine off his mask means that we can’t see his expression following the play. </p>
<p>— Timmy has heavy hands right now.  He seems to be putting a little more force into his shots than is necessary, meaning that even his go-to moves are failing. </p>
<p>— The referees allow Detroit to mug Manu at one end, making up for it by calling a questionable foul on Parker at the other. </p>
<p>— Duncan has missed his last seven shots and Detroit is up by nine.  The two go together like Craig Sager and primary colours. </p>
<p>— Tim finally finds the bottom of the net on an and-one, also connecting on the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. </p>
<p>— A block, a break and a Manu layup later, and the lead is down to two.  The crowd is now the loudest it’s been since they let Rasheed know he was about as welcome in San Antonio as Kobe Bryant at Shaq’s birthday party. </p>
<p>— Bowen picks up Billups for the first time in the game, bodying him up the second he turns his back to the basket.  Where’s that mismatch now? </p>
<p>— The Spurs are now playing what appears to be a modified two-three zone.  Tayshaun takes the bait, launching up a three that falls way short of the rim.  He may have had his shot tipped, but from where I’m sitting it looked as if he just blew it.  Given his shooting motion, I’m never surprised when he draws air. </p>
<p>— Duncan makes another three-point play.  The difference is now one point. </p>
<p>— Tim puts one in off the glass.  This is more like it. </p>
<p>— Manu blows by two defenders, finishing with a trademark lefty slam.  When Duncan follows this up with another bank-shot to take the lead, the crowd screams as if somebody just let a bear loose in the stands. </p>
<p>— There’s another shot clock violation by Detroit, and it sounds like the bear just started mauling people. </p>
<p>— Hunter quickly cools them off by hitting a long two from the corner with under a second on the clock. </p>
<p>— Again, Manu is clattered as the period finishes, although this time he makes no appeal to the officials.  Bienvenido a los Estados Unidos.  (That reminds me: I have a Spanish exam which starts roughly three hours after this game finishes.  If I fall asleep during the paper, I’ll know why.) </p>
<p>— Both the score and my tongue are tied as the fourth quarter starts.  I’m so hyped that I can barely speak. </p>
<p>— Timmy breaks the tie with a dunk off of a slick feed from Barry.  When Duncan seals his defender, it’s as good as two points. </p>
<p>— Ben Wallace interferes with the ball as it bobbles on the rim, tapping it out to Rasheed, who is then fouled by Manu.  The officials look like they don’t want to make any minor calls at this stage of the game. </p>
<p>— Coming off a high pick, Manu splits the double and sends it down with his weak hand, giving the Spurs the lead.  The bear is back out. </p>
<p>— The atmosphere is tense back at the studio as the analysts stop debating and start arguing.  Given that two of them are former players known for their aggression, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some bloody noses the next time we visit the booth.  Fights have broken out over less in the commentary box.  Steve Kerr will tell you that Marv Albert has a mean hook. </p>
<p>— Rasheed leaves Horry open for three.  Larry Brown covers his face as the ball swishes through. </p>
<p>— Detroit is forced into another shot clock violation as Nazr swats Big Ben under the bucket. </p>
<p>— Bowen knocks one down from outside the arc, giving San Antonio a six-point cushion.  As my feet involuntarily break out into a miniature victory dance, I realise that I badly want the Spurs to win, and not just because the Pistons sent my Heat packing. </p>
<p>— Rasheed hits an implausible fade over Duncan, and is currently looking like the most relaxed person in the building.  Am I a cynic for thinking he might be high? </p>
<p>— It looks like the Spurs have six defenders on the floor at the moment.  Even when they double-team Billups, nobody appears to be open. </p>
<p>— Duncan hits a desperation jumper from a step inside the arc, and Billups responds with a wild layup over the entire state of Texas. </p>
<p>— With two seconds left to shoot, Manu puts up what looks like a set shot that finds the basket.  The Spurs are now up seven, and with under three minutes left in the game, keeping their cool is now their main priority.  That, however, is easier said than done. </p>
<p>— ‘Sheed fails to draw iron on a three, and Big Ben reaches in on Manu down the other end.  He takes another dribble and two steps before casually flipping it in, and the crowd calls for continuation.  You can’t blame them for trying. </p>
<p>— Bowen picks up his fifth foul on Chauncey.  San Antonio is now in the penalty, which sends Billups to the line.  Uncharacteristically, he misses the second. </p>
<p>— Rip Hamilton barrels into Big Shot Bob and is whistled for the charge.  You’d think he would have learnt not to take Horry on from game five. </p>
<p>— Horry takes the ball at the sidelines and is forced to call a timeout when he can’t make an inbound pass. </p>
<p>— There’s a six-point gap with ninety seconds left.  As The Coyote dances in the centre of the court, I realise that I’ve never been so nervous while watching a basketball game.  I don’t even support either of these teams. </p>
<p>— Ben Wallace somehow steals the inbound pass and Chauncey quickly hits a pull-up jumper.  The lead is down to four. </p>
<p>— With just over a minute left, ‘Sheed sends Tim to the line. </p>
<p>— Tim puts up the first, and the folks in the upper tier of the arena can hear the ball swish through.  The noise of the crowd masks the sound of the subsequent brick.  Coach Larry calls a timeout as Detroit secures the rebound. </p>
<p>— Chauncey has a look in his eyes that causes me to break out in a cold sweat that reminds me of waking up from nightmares as a child. </p>
<p>— Bowen somehow gets a hand to Chauncey’s three-point attempt and grabs the ball, leading to a twisting layup by Manu at the other end. </p>
<p>— Chauncey drives and dishes to an open Rasheed in the corner, who calmly sinks the three. </p>
<p>— Manu is immediately hacked as the ball is inbounded, sending him to the charity stripe.  He knocks down both. </p>
<p>— Rasheed narrowly misses a three and the ball goes out of bounds.  The crowd immediately falls silent before the referee awards the ball to the Spurs, causing the San Antonio faithful to break out in a raucous cheer as Pop calls a timeout.  The Spurs are up six with eighteen ticks left. </p>
<p>— Big Shot Bob is sent to the line and, true to the name, sinks a pair. </p>
<p>— Rip is fouled on the drive, hitting the layup and the ensuing free throw to make it a five-point game. </p>
<p>— Detroit commits an unforgivable error by allowing Manu to leak out and catch a lead pass.  He passes up an open look at the basket to run a few seconds off the clock before being fouled and hitting two more free throws. </p>
<p>— Tayshaun fires a three shortly before the buzzer, and by the time it hits the rim, the Spurs are the 2005 NBA champions. </p>
<p>— Manu and Robert Horry are interviewed as confetti rains from the rafters, both looking as happy as it is humanly possible to be.  Manu’s grin is actually wider than his face, and he and Horry speak like excited children as dozens of team employees wearing championship shirts slap them on the back or call out congratulatory words. </p>
<p>— The crowd boos David Stern as he takes the microphone at the centre of the floor.  Dave shrugs it off and continues, ever the professional. </p>
<p>The sun rises outside my window as the Spurs raise the trophy, two golden orbs ascending simultaneously.  The game itself was ugly, but this moment is beautiful.  A wide camera shot shows the floor flooded with fans donning the San Antonio black, Tim Duncan standing triumphantly in the centre with both arms aloft, one holding the Larry O’Brien, the other his MVP trophy.  The celebration is very much underway as the team, the building and the city begin to fully recognise what has been accomplished tonight.  As the image freezes and slowly fades to black, another NBA season ends, and another chapter in basketball history is written.   </p>