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Articles > NBA Notes

By Rabbi Mitch Smith

It didn't look like it was going to happen. From the fallout of the infamous BasketBrawl at the start of the current NBA season to talk during the playoffs that the head coach was half way out the door, few were giving the league's defending champions much of a chance to make it back to the Finals this year. But an 88-82 victory over the Shaq and the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals proved a satisfying moment to coach and players alike.

"I'm glad my players are loose - I'm not loose," Coach Larry Brown told reporters just before the game. "It's been a long day. But I really want them to have fun and enjoy the moment. I don't think you can play well when you're worrying about fouling and about making mistakes."

Whatever worries and distractions the Pistons may have had going into Monday night's game, they managed to shake off an early lead by the Heat to close out the first half 45-40 off Rip Hamilton's 16 points and a defensive effort that limited Shaq's inside production to 12. A less-than-healthy Dwyane Wade popped in 12 third-quarter points to close the gap, and the Heat built up a 6 point advantage in the 4th. Detroit fought their way back to tie the game 76-76 with 3 minutes left. After Shaq banked in a jump shot, and Chanucey Billups missed a three-point toss, the game was still in question. But Rasheed Wallace drew a foul, sank his two free throws, then another basket, and with the seconds ticking away, the Heat started fouling in an effort! to gain time. Billups, the Championship MVP in 2004, sank 4 free throws and Tayshaun Prince another two to close the game 86-82.

Afterwards in the locker room, Prince talked about the team's state of mind. "With the talk about Larry leaving during the course of the season, with some of the other things we have had to deal with, with the talk of things we had to deal with during this (Eastern Conference Finals) series, I think all of that just gave us the tenacity and the toughness to say, 'Hey, let's respond' because people think we're not going to be able to respond with all the off-the-court issues that were going on. People put us down, said we couldn't come back because of what was going on, saying we were going to lose focus."

Brown, too, addressed the matter of the distractions. "I've heard so much about how hard it is to repeat [as champions], but we've had so many other obstacles that I felt were difficult, with Ben [Wallace] getting suspended because of the fight, and with my illness, but I don't ever think that coaching in the NBA is a smooth journey, there's always going to be bumps. That's why Joe's (President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars) developed a culture here where you've got guys with character - when there are obstacles they find a way to get through it. Tonight they [the Heat] got up by 6 late in the game, our guys found a way to fight back.

"During the season, we didn't talk so much about championships, but it's turned out way beyond my wildest dreams. I never was involved with an NBA Championship team, and to have it happen in my first year [with the Pistons], and then to have a chance to compete again for it the next year - it's just been wonderful."

When asked if - in light of his Olympic experience of the past summer, facing European teams that made short shrift of the Americans, Brown had any concerns going against the Spurs, a team with a strong European contingent, Brown quipped: "Yeah, but they don't have a smart European coach." Maybe not, but Gregg Popovich, the Spurs' head coach, was the best man at Brown's wedding. That was pretty nice on the part of "Popp", considering that Brown, an Olympics trials coach in 1972, cut the young Poppovich who tried out for the team.

Regardless of how Larry Brown's 2005 NBA season ends, he has made one important post-season commitment. Brown will serve, together with older brother Herb, as honorary chairman of the judges panel for the Center for Sport and Jewish Life's upcoming "Sport and Jewish Life" essay contest, details of which will be announced shortly on this site.

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