They say the bigger the headache, the bigger the pill, baby. Call me the big pill
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. He asked for this.
Back in the Miami series. After Game 5. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder. We walked. His team was down 3-2, and he said, "This is a series. Oh, I love this!"
Chauncey Billups, him. He asked for this. He asked to be down, to play from behind. He asked to prove that he and the team he leads is just that good.
That's the mentality of a true baller. A baller whose name they stutter at home whenever he does his thing. Drop a bucket, drop a dime, drop a squad. B-b-b-because when the drama gets thick, he has a love for the odds being impossible.
But he'd never been in a hole like this one. Not down two games. Not to a team people were beginning to say has a place in history.
"For us, this is about winning basketball games, not a beauty contest," is what he said after the second loss. But I wondered if he really loved this. Because although there are those who love drama, who love pressure, no one loves impossibility.
Not even Chauncey Billups is that good.
As he stepped onto the court, to play (really) the most important game of his career ("We've never been in an 0-2 situation before and we really don't want to be down further," he'd say), not one bead of sweat dropped from his brow. His body temp was cool, the blood in his body cold. This was his time. The time that he asked for. Twenty-two thousand, and seventy-six in attendance, nervous as Mitch Kupchak is about his job security. While he stayed cooler than snow under a polar bear.
Smooth, at this point, was no longer just a nickname.
They had no choice but to play like themselves. Pride or die.
Energy is one thing players beating players to loose balls, getting big rebounds, hustle points. Urgency playing in a panic, ahead of pace, in overdrive is another. But pride is what no one saw from the Pistons until now. Pride is what Mike Tyson lost the other night.
And pride, we forget, has a way of showing up in teams and players when they have nothing left to play for.
In the last 1:24 of the first half, pride knocked Tony Parker on his butt (unintentionally, with a hard foul across the left eye), pride did an And-5 reverse dribble shakedown to get the baseline finger-roll off the glass, pride made sure Parker didn't get a shot off to extend the Spurs' one-point lead as time expired.
Twenty-four minutes later, it's him, the player of the game, who grabs the can of black Krylon and sprays the "X" over the number 4 on the front of the scorers table. Indicating that the pride's (finally) arrived.
"I think everything tonight was about pride," Chauncey would say later, after it was all over, after the Pistons returned to self. "After those two bad losses in San Antonio, people really wrote us off. I even heard some people saying that we were soft. So everything we did tonight had to do with pride."
His 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and one turnover had something more than just pride written on it. It had something equivalent to a continued search for respect. All year long, and through everything, the Pistons are still the owners of the throne that no one outside of Kwame Kilpatrick's jurisdiction gives them credit for.