Wednesday, May 21, 2003 Updated: May 24, 7:46 PM ET
The Good, the bad and the vicious
By Hunter S. Thompson Page 2 columnist
Wow! This is incredible. We have just witnessed two consecutive good basketball plays in a single NBA Eastern Conference playoff game. It is 10:19 pm on a wet Tuesday night in America. The top-seed Detroit Pistons are more or less leading the quasi-dangerous New Jersey Nets, champions of the NBA East. Ho ho.
The score is 78-76, a repulsively low total for any NBA game with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It is a shameless mockery of what the NBA used to look like at playoff time. These teams Suck. But do we really deserve five more minutes of Overtime in this ratbastard game. This is bad bad, ugly-ugly basketball. We don't need any more of this brazen chickens---. Get it over with.
Yes. Thud! There it goes, oozing away in the dimness of itself. The Nets win, by two. 88-86. And good riddance. The NBA East is a low-talent, low-rent tribe of carpetbaggers. Yes, Virginia, there really is no Santa Claus -- and things will never really turn out Right in the end.
Right. And so much for that, eh? The only truly shocking game of the playoffs so far was San Antonio's hopeless collapse against Dallas on Monday night, when the Mavericks came back from 18 points down to win the vitally important first game of the West finals by three little points, after trailing for all but the last 14 seconds of the game. It was a disaster.
The last second was bad enough, but the stunning collapse of the favored home team was utterly demoralizing to the proud and prancing Spurs, who self-destructed after Tim Duncan got his fifth foul. It was like watching the tortoise run down the hare, right in front of our eyes. Snap, crackle, POP. Even Jack Nicholson had to feel a twinge of sympathy for a first-class team like the Spurs -- brought low by a seed of tragedy in themselves.
Out of their rhythm and out of luck, the Spurs look vulnerable.
Tim Duncan is an agreeable no-fun kind of guy who scored 40 points in a losing cause against a bone-tired Dallas team that had just finished playing seven incredibly savage, draining games against Sacramento, obviously the best team in the NBA until they lost the best player, unanimous all-pro Chris Webber, to a season-ending injury about half-way through the playoffs. That was it, once again, for the snake-bitten Kings, who have been the best team in the league for the last two years but got bush-whacked both times by crippling injury or wretched home-town officiating.
I weep for Sacramento, but so what? It was like betting on a three-legged horse. And if San Antonio hadn't blown that game against Dallas on Monday, they would almost certainly have been the Champions of the NBA this year.
And they May still be -- but things are different now, and the Spurs are suddenly looking a little weak, a little more vulnerable than they did after terminating the Lakers. Hell, all Don Nelson and his conquering thugs had to do was deliberately and continually foul the worst free-throw shooter on San Antonio's playoff roster every time he touched the ball, and sometimes even sooner.
It was a crude and disgusting way to play the game, but it worked. The Spurs got rattled and taken rudely out of their game. They lost their rhythm, and that is usually fatal, especially in the playoffs. Dallas is now the smart-money favorite. Suddenly, this looks like a keenly competitive six- or seven-game series.
Good. That is the way it should be, according to my calculations and public predictions -- except that I had the Spurs winning, if they could navigate the rest of the playoffs without major injuries.
I did not even think about the chance of one team resorting to flat-out public thuggery as a secret winning strategy, and that makes me feel vaguely stupid. How could I have been so silly? So na´ve?
Ah, but I am being hard on myself again. My overall predictions are lookin pretty suave, so far. I even had Dallas, plus nine, in Game 1 -- which sounds a bit fishy, on the surface.
Indeed. How could any self-respecting gambler give Dallas, plus nine, in a playoff game?
The answer is they don't -- except maybe for half-time bets, like mine. So take a tip from a shameless hustler, folks. Make your most desperate bets at half-time, when one team is so far ahead that it looks like a certain massive beating. That is the time to pounce. That is the moment to sink your fangs into half-bright fans who are not really paying attention to this one-sided farce. Yes. That is the moment to slip the dagger between their ribs. After that, it is only a matter of time before you will want to twist it. That is what a true gambler loves -- the FLEECING, the Whipping, the cruelty, the stabbing. They barely even feel it, until money changes hands and there is no escape from the sleazy truth of it. That is when you can physically feel their pain. That is what makes sports gambling so fun. It is wonderful.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was born and raised in Louisville, Ky. His books include "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," "The Great Shark Hunt," "The Curse of Lono," "Generation of Swine," "Songs of the Doomed," "Screwjack," "Better Than Sex," "The Proud Highway," "The Rum Diary," and "Fear and Loathing in America." His latest book, "Kingdom of Fear," has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears regularly on Page 2.