Four storylines, one sizzling Game 7
It's not just a Game 7 that will send the survivor to the NBA Finals.
Detroit at Miami?
It's bigger than that.
Pistons at Heat to decide the Eastern Conference championship, as if that's not enough of a showdown, comes with four bonus matchups built in.
Count with us:
1. Dwyane Wade versus Allen Iverson
After a season of Kobe Bryant comparisons and debates about how much higher than No. 5 he'd go if the 2003 NBA Draft were held again, I prefer to look at Wade as a bigger Answer.
A bigger Iverson, that is, who's easier to play alongside.
It's a comparison even Heat coach Stan Van Gundy has been known to make, and the validity of the comparison makes it safe to predict Wade will play in Game 7. No matter how painful Wade's rib strain is, Iverson wouldn't miss a game like this unless his knee were ripped up. You suspect that Wade has the same attitude, just as he has Iverson's attack-the-rim fearlessness.
2. Shaquille O'Neal versus Jerry Buss
Even if Wade plays, how can he possibly be at his best? Right & there's little chance he can.
There's a far greater chance that Shaq, heading into his seventh game playing through a painful thigh injury, will find it easier to dig deep and resuscitate the monster who's a perfect 3-0 lifetime in Game 7s.
We've seen only glimpses of that Shaq in this series, but O'Neal, at 33, probably has to muster at least one game at the 30-point, 15-board level if the Heat hope to advance to the Finals for the first time.
Otherwise he'll be giving back some told-you-so leverage about his durability to Jerry and Kobe after reveling in the Lakers' demise all season.
3. Pistons versus NBA history
Pistons players have been known to claim that they're the most underappreciated champions in league history.
But if they can't beat the hobbled Heat in Game 7, chances are the dissing of Detroit will be a lot louder than any perceived disrespect those guys think they've heard until now. Failure to at least get back to the Finals, given Miami's team health, will inevitably spawn some One Hit Wonder chatter.
Of greater concern, it would also shatter the in-house belief Detroit has clung to throughout its season of tumult and inconsistent intensity. The Pistons have believed all year that they will prevail whenever they have to win, as dangerous as it is to think that way.
4. Larry against the world
A loss for the Pistons puts us all on a Cleveland Brown watch.
A wait, specifically, to see if Larry Brown has committed too deeply to the Cavaliers to refuse their team presidency, or if he can wriggle away now to try to save his reputation after such a negative reaction to his ongoing flirtations with the Cavs (see these poll results from last week, for instance).
A Game 7 victory, meanwhile, sends Brown onto the worldwide stage of another Finals, where he is bound to face more uncomfortable questions about chasing a new job with a divisional rival while his current team is trying to win another championship.
Either way, it's obviously not a story that's going away anytime soon.