By Eric Neel
Page 2

We think tonight has to be about the big hero being heroic.

Blame it on MJ, John Wayne, the Greeks, or even Bonnie Tyler. It's just how we think. It's a Game 7 thing.

The pressure is at its peak, the cameras are rolling, and we assume things ride on the shoulders of the superstar. So we think in terms of Duncan – will he rise up and dominate when it matters most? And we view things through a Chauncey prism – can he grab this game-of-games by the throat?

Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace
The Duncan-'Sheed showdown will be all-important. Unless it's not.

But this isn't that Game 7. Not with those stars. Not with these teams. We shouldn't cookie-cutter this thing or frame it before it plays out, because it's a different beast, another kind of drama.

As great a player as Tim Duncan is, the Spurs aren't built to feature him in any kind of Jordanesque or Olajuwonic way. That's not who they are and that's not who he is for them. He's a 15-18 shots/game guy, who's going to shoot a high percentage, rebound in the mid-double digits and be about average (roughly a career 70 percent shooter) from the line. And the Spurs are great with all that. He's been spectacularly steady, productive, and successful for them over the years, in both the regular season and in the playoffs.

And while Chauncey Billups has been tremendous in this series (and the whole postseason), his stuff is still, almost always, within the flow of the Pistons' ball-movement, screen-and-roll approaches. He's putting a hurt on Tony Parker, no doubt, but not to the exclusion of trying to keep Rip, Rasheed, and Tayshaun in the mix (Billups' assist number in the series is at 6, right where it's been all year).

You've heard it a hundred times by now but it bears repeating heading into tonight: These teams are TEAMs, and as such, they kind of break the Game 7 mold. We can't just look at any one guy on either side and say: He's the man, it rests on him, it all hinges on his talent and will. We've got no Magic vs. Larry tonight, no Michael vs. Charles (yeah, that was a Game 6, but you get my point).

And maybe that's why we're lukewarm on this series. The style of play is deliberate, and the first four games were yawners, and that didn't help, but what we miss most right now is the drama of a showdown, or the exhilarating prospect of a superstar completely taking over and taking no prisoners.

But the thing is, we shouldn't miss that stuff. We should let it go.

Because there's another kind of drama coming tonight; a more authentic variety, actually. And "variety" is the key term here. We have no clue what's going to happen in this game. We do not know who's going to make the difference. We can't reasonably anticipate the man who will be The Man. We can't even make a real good case that there will be any such figure at all.

This isn't a reason to be down on this game, it's a reason to be high on it. Maybe things aren't as fun as they were when it was Spurs-Suns or Suns-Mavs, but we've got some real live, honest-to-goodness suspense in the air right now, folks, and that's a rare thing indeed.

Given each club's propensity to share the ball (both averaged about 21½ apg this season, and both show patience on the offensive end), and their shared defensive habit of, as Hubie put it the first night, taking away all your pet moves and set plays, we could see any one of about 13 players making the difference in this game.

We've seen it already in the series: Manu was the hero in Games 1 and 2, Ben owned the third, Lindsey Hunter put his stamp on the fourth, the fifth will forever belong to Mr. Horry, and Game 6 was Rasheed's when it came down to it (and you'll notice Tim Duncan's and Chauncey Billups' names aren't yet on this list). We have to tune in to see how it unfolds. The game is ripe with possibility.

And if it's close (pleeeeeeeeease let it be close ... say a prayer, light a candle, wish upon a star, do whatever it is you do), it may not be any of those guys at all. It may be some Mario Elie type doing great things, or some poor mug off the bench, spotting for a starter on a three-minute blow, who pulls a boner. Which is to say, it could be anybody doing any big or little thing.

In fact, my buddy Andy and I are thinking about running a pool tomorrow night: Everybody "buys" one of the unsungs. I think he's looking at Big Dog, just for the possibility of six shots in three minutes tipping the scales. I'm going with Hunter again. I see two tide-turning moments, one on a breakaway where he decides to go for a dunk, just to send a message.

And I'm putting some mythical money down on Darko, too, but that's just because I have a crazy theory about how Larry's been setting us up for two years, and I have to hedge against the possibility that the kid is actually really good and he's maybe about to come off the bench in the fourth and hit a bunch of jump hooks over a tired Duncan to put things away.

As for who's actually going to take this thing, I'm still picking the Spurs to win the game, because they were my pick back last summer, and they've been my pick all season long. But I'm seriously nervous about that pick now that we've hit Game 7.

Because I have no idea how it's going to go.

And neither do you.

And while that may not be pretty, I do think it's great.

Eric Neel is a Page 2 columnist



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FINAL SUSPENSE