Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fight or Flight.

In 1915, Walter Cannon coined the term "fight or flight" to describe the reaction of an animal's nervous system to a threat to prepare the animal to either attack the threat or flee from it.

In less than two hours, we will see what fight or flight response these Detroit Pistons have. Is there too much damage to be repaired? Has their current coach ruined things so much that the focus and willpower that the team once possessed has deteriorated to the point of no return?

Or is there another level left? Can these Pistons summon up the intestinal fortitude to fight off a crippling 3-1 deficit? Can Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace shut up for once in their lives and just play basketball? Instead of posturing and spreading false hope in the newspapers, can the two richest players on this team earn that money? Chauncey Billups disappeared against Cleveland last year, and has not returned yet. Can the Chauncey Billups that scored 40 and 37 against Orlando in Games 6 and 7 in 2003 return? Is he still in there? Or has the ego smothered him beyond all repair? All of these players were so much better with a chip on their shoulders. Chauncey was better when he didn't have an NBA Finals MVP trophy on his mantle. When the world saw him as the lottery pick that played for six teams in six years, he proved the world wrong. And now that he is seen as one of the better point guards in the league, he has let up, his determination waning.

Rasheed Wallace was better when he was still seen as a malcontent, as a cancer. When Larry Brown harnessed the inferno that is Rasheed, he excelled, putting the Pistons over the top and delivering the final piece of a championship team. And now that his title has changed from "team killer" to "team leader", his focus fades in and out more than ever. His disappearing acts come at all the wrong times.

Is there anything left? Does this team have what it takes to rally together one last time? Or are they so blinded by the sense of entitlement? They feel it is their god given right to duel with the Celtics to the end, to see who is the Beast of the East. And yet here they sit, one loss away from a 3-1 deficit. This 3-1 hole wouldn't be the same as the one they faced against Orlando in 2003 when they had a starting five of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Clifford Robinson and Michael Curry. That team was still learning how to win, how to face adversity. This team has faced it all, and because of that, they've gotten bored with it. They still believe they can flip the switch and dispose of Philadelphia with a sweep of their hand. What is it going to take for them to realize that it doesn't work that way? What has to happen for them to see that talent isn't everything, that it's about heart and hustle, too?

It breaks my heart that we could possibly be witnessing the final days of this Pistons team. I don't know what goes on in Joe D's head, so I don't know what he's thinking as he watches this series. Does he think a change in leadership is what's required to right the ship? If so, Flip Saunders will be gone very soon, and that's all kinds of good. But is it possible that Dumars sees this as the end of the line for these Pistons? If so, there's some brutal decisions to make in the offseason. Do you dare break up the team that has been the benchmark in the Eastern Conference for five years running? Or do you view it as the team that has underachieved for two years straight, possibly going on three?

I don't envy Joe Dumars. If the Pistons' fate is to fold against Philly, then something will change. Coach, players, who knows? I have my own mad scientist masterplan for the Pistons if Joe D does decide to blow it up after the season, but I'll save those thoughts for a more appropriate time.

Until then, it's time to see if these Pistons have any fire left.

Fight or flight. It starts tonight.

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