Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Battle of Thermopylae and the Eastern Conference Finals
By Scott Simon
The Battle of Thermopylae was immortalized on the big screen in the movie 300. The Battle of Chicmiami is going down in the Eastern Conference. You know the basic plotline- 300 Spartans with massive spears and minimal clothing block a crucial pass before ultimately getting run over by Persian soldiers and their leader Xerxes who referred to himself a “King-god” (shhh, don’t tell LeBron, he may fancy the monarch’s moniker). The Spartans were fantastically skilled but were too small in number to continue to endure the relentless force, determination, and sheer quantity of the Persian army. Inevitably, the Thermopylae Pass was won by the Persians although we admire the Spartans for their dedication and effort. I have a feeling James, Wade, and Bosh may go the same way as the Spartans, but please, do not go tail between the legs because I’m pretty sure there was no cloth covering their backsides.
If you’re a basketball purist and snob like I am, last night’s game between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls was the perfect tonic for a sports fan without his preferred pastimes on the plasma. It was about this time last year when we wondered whether the self proclaimed King would take his kingdom (and his talents) elsewhere and while awaiting the inevitability of another Lakers vs. Celtics showdown. And both of these situations bugged us, the snobberatti, in mid-May last season. First, the future of the NBA seemed more important then the present. Where LeBron James, and his fated clingers-on, played in 2010 and on got more pub then the playoff games themselves. This is never good… unless you have a vested interest in the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, CT. And second, despite what the NBA desperately tried to label a “classic Finals,” we were subject to not one but two franchises teamed and taped together by aging veterans desperately seeking a championship… and more notoriety. You know how Paul called Kevin and Kevin called Ray and they all met up in Boston. Just like Cheers sans Norm. You also know how Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak shanghaied Pau Gasol from Memphis while landing Ron Artest for peanuts (which ironically is the size of Ron’s brain). In Celtics vs. Lakers we knew what we were getting each game and after it was all said and done we knew they’d be back again next year. Sunrise (in Boston), sunset (in LA). Which is why last night’s clash of styles was so mesmerizing for me, the neutral purist.
The brilliance of Bulls and what I believe will be the tragedy of Heat is in their make-up. But before I pontificate on future results let’s stop and appreciate the dichotomy. Those who fault James, Wade and Bosh for taking less money to team up and achieve the ultimate goal are entitled to their opinions. You can bash “The Decision” (and I have) but James, Wade and Bosh eschewed greed in the name of something money cannot buy. The Bulls on the other hand are made up of one superstar in Derrick Rose, a host of role players, bit parts, and Turkish center named Omer Asik who I have dubbed “The Istan Bull.” The Bulls, thanks to relative obscure General Manager Gar Forman, are built for the long haul as an injury or suspension to any one player (outside of Rose) can be overcome by tremendous depth and talent. The Heat, like a tripod, couldn’t stand if one of their legs was kicked out from underneath them. It’s a risk-reward strategy President of Basketball Operation Pat Riley has slicked together and is stuck with- much like his hair. Both men shared the NBA’s top executive honors this year which proves there is more than one way to skin a cat and exactly zero ways to skin a “Pat.”
At Thermopylae the Spartans won the first of many battles. At the United Center, the Bulls made sure the few but proud never got started. Chicago is remarkable in that they used ten guys- and all of them played at least eleven minutes. The Heat played eleven men yet four of them played less than five minutes. Jamaal Magliore played ten minutes last night for Miami. Either it’s in his contract or Heat Headman Eric Spoelstra is terrified of him, but Jamaal Magliore should NEVER play ten minutes in an Eastern Conference Finals. The snob in me loved the Bulls 23 assists to only nine turnovers (Miami had 11 and 16 respectively) and 10 three-pointers made on 21 shots (Miami shot 3 for 8). The Bulls got at least four made baskets from seven different players. Everyone chipped in on the glass particularly on the offensive end where the Bulls grabbed an absurd nineteen second chances. The Heat struggled to penetrate Chicago’s thick crust perimeter defense and when Miami did make it into the paint it was one shot and done as the Bulls boxed out with the tenacity of their most famous rebounder, Dennis Rodman. Despite being tied a halftime the Bulls never panicked. It would have been easy for Chicago to press too hard and force the issue in their first big-time home playoff game in ages. That didn’t happen. And Bulls fans surely would have been cool if novice Head Coach Tom Thibodeau extolled some grandiose oration inside the Bulls locker room at the break. That didn’t happen either. In fact, the only thing cooler than the “win one for the Thibber” speech is having your MVP point guard stand up and say it’s on him going forward while the coach does absolutely nothing and stays the course with designed substitutions and relentless, adroit tactics as if it is all going according to plan. And that was the beauty of last night’s game. The Bulls just kept coming because that’s what they can do. Miami isn’t finished yet, but after an 82 game season and two arduous playoff series it’s time to wonder how much the big three have left. They’ll have to win a road game at some point in this series and 297 Spartans aren’t coming to Chicago… and even if they do, we know how that story ends.