Sunday, June 10, 2007

Game 2 - Do or Die

Looking Up
I didn't say it was going to be easy.

To call tonight's NBA Finals Game 2 a must win for LeBron and the Cavs is stating the obvious but I think it's interesting how few observers seem to be giving them a chance. San Antonio's dominant performance in Game 1 is a big reason for this but I'm still not backing off of my prediction of a Cavs series win.

I think LeBron will not be as easily shut down as he was in Game 1, if only because every time a team has slowed or stopped him, he's found a way to make them pay the next time. If anything was apparent after the Cavs stormed back to beat Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was how quick a study of the game LeBron is. I expect nothing less from him on the biggest basketball stage there is. This is going to be LeBron's domain for foreseeable future. He has already shown his understanding of these moments and how important they are for his legacy. And he’s never said he wants that legacy to be about anything but winning.

The Spurs played great in Game 1. They almost played a perfect game. But still, if you take out the can’t-miss third quarter where the Spurs opened up a 15-point lead, the Cavs were pretty much in the game. The Spurs lead at the half was five points. If the Cavs stay within a basket or two of that, their fourth-quarter 13-4 run might have helped them steal the game.

I saw signs of LeBron figuring out the defense in the fourth quarter. He was getting better looks and the coaches were getting him into better position to make shots. I also think the Cavs were surprised at the intensity of the physical play under the basket. You would think after playing Detroit, it wouldn’t get any tougher but there’s a degree increase when you get to the Finals. Refs seem to let the teams play more and they allow more contact. If you’re gonna score, you’re gonna have to earn it.

This almost always is a shock to players playing in their first Finals. It takes two or three quarters to get a feel for it and I think that and the hyped up feeling that’s natural for first-timers, might have put the Cavs at a real disadvantage.

It’s a big hill to climb but I like the Cavs chances of stealing Game 2.

Ciao Familia

I’m a t.v. writer and while I don’t say much about it here, I can’t let tonight’s “The Sopranos” final go by without a personal goodbye.

I don’t know if it’s the best show ever on t.v., but it sure was unique. Creator David Chase and his staff created not merely a series, but a weaving, sometimes meandering turnpike through the soul of America, pitting our trumped up pseudo morality against our insatiable appetite for violence.

You can trace this back to the first season when Tony, on a college trip to Maine with his daughter Meadow, discovers a former colleague turned informant. When he sneaks off during one of Meadow’s interviews to garrote the rat to death with his bare hands, you are without even realizing it, rooting for him to succeed. When the guy’s eyes bulge out and he breathes his last breath, dropping to the ground in a heap, it is a satisfying moment for Tony – and us. It’s these sorts of feats of magic that make this show so compelling and kept me turning in faithfully.

I think Chase will choose to fade out rather than go out with a bang, because his series has always been so novelistic, and as outlandish some of his characters, his anchors have always been real life. Or it could be a bloodbath. But I will miss "The Sopranos," if only because it’s one more smartly written show leaving the airwaves, but what I’ll mourn is the failure of American television (especially the networks) to learn the right lessons from this show's success. That is that characters count and stories need room to grow, that chopping up one-hour dramas into more parts rather than less is killing storytelling. That we need bad characters as much as good ones, that wrong vs. right doesn’t necessarily have easy answers and that the audience is smarter than we think.

The hole in my heart might yet be filled by David Milch’s newest series, “John From Cincinnati,” which follows Tony’s last hurrah tonight on HBO. I have high hopes for this series and the coming season of “The Wire,” and trust HBO will keep the good stuff coming.

But allow me a moment to grieve for what feels like the end of an era.

Thanks David Chase et al and the fabulous cast and ciao Tony and Chris and Sil and Paulie Walnuts and Janice and Hesh, Meadow and A.J., Bobby and Big Pussy and Uncle Junior, and Dr. Melfi of course and Tony's ducks and Carmella. Especially Carmella.

Un amico non è conosciuto finchè è perso. (A friend is not known til he is lost. - Italian Proverb).

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