|It all comes down to this. |
Actually, no it doesn’t.
There’s still the loser’s bracket to be played out.
Because the Dream League does that weird double-elimination format thing in the post-season, Thursday night’s titanic match-up featuring the top seeded Spartans and the second-seeded Cruisers is not for all the marbles.
It’s merely a semifinal.
But man, when it’s 1 vs. 2, how can it not feel like that this is it.
This is the championship. This is the big enchilada. This is the final countdown (cue Europe rock song now.)
After laying waste to the Tri-State InvAsian on Wednesday night 66-49 behind a scorching hot 3rd quarter from Eddie Wang when he dropped 4 straight triples, the Spartans set up the game that everyone around here expected to see.
The Cruisers have been waiting for nearly two weeks after tossing aside the Fury 79-58 on November 18th while the Spartans have to turn it around quick and play again the next night.
They hardly mind though, and so we have the best of the best going against each other – one ready and one rested - the way it should be.
The Spartans with their high-octane offense (60.4 ppg), second in the DL. The Cruisers not far behind with 58.3 (4th). The Spartans with the NL’s second-stingiest defense (51.3 ppg allowed). The Cruisers right behind them at 51.6 (3rd).
The Spartans took the Dehli Conference, the Cruisers Shanghai’d theirs’.
In their lone match-up this season, the Spartans excused the Cruisers in the second week of the season 62-56, but even the Spartans set an asterisk next to it cause they know that Tony Hu, who had an injured shoulder and didn’t suit up for that game, was out.
George Chan had a sub-par game and the Spartans were aided by a big 4th quarter from David Ha who has since left the team for seminary school in Philadelphia, and yet, the Cruisers were there till the end.
These are mere facts of a game that took place long ago. It was August, no one in a million years could have thought Joe Torre would ever be in a Los Angeles Dodger uniform and hopes for the Jets were still sky-high.
Throw all that out the window now.
Each game has a dynamic of its own, so who was and wasn’t there then matters not one bit now. When the ball tips, and these two teams get at it, rest assured for the next 36 minutes, it’s going to be one hell of a game.
Does it feel like 2002 when everyone felt like the Western Conference Finals was the actual finals and the fact that the Lakers played the Nets after they beat Sacramento in 7 was mere exercise?
Here’s the thing though: whoever wins this game may very well have to face the other team once again in a short while.
The loser gets the team that comes out of the M&A 101/Super Soul Sonics/TSIV/Fury mess. No one is saying those teams will lay down for the loser of Spartans-Cruisers, but does Spartans-101, Spartans-SSS, Spartans-TSIV, Spartans-Fury or Cruisers-101, Cruisers-SSS, Cruisers-TSIV, or Cruisers-Fury in the actual finals have the same ring as Spartans-Cruisers?
I thought so.
E-Dub was in a zone.
Out of the remaining teams who are still clinging to life, who has the best shot at upsetting the balance of a 1 vs. 2 rematch in the finals?
Flip a coin (if they had 4-sided coins.)
It’d easily be the Fury, who have the NL’s highest scoring offense, if it weren’t for the fact that everybody on the team suddenly seems to be disappearing at the most inopportune time. Shawn de los Reyes should be back from a sabbatical. But it seems Phil Moon and Ming Meonske have gone AWOL. Alvin Wang has a knee injury that’s sidelined him for the rest of the year and Albert Chung has retired. Ren's wracking his brain right now.
101 has been and still is a mess. Center Brian Liang is confirmed out for the rest of the year, if not his life, as he’s simply lost his desire to play basketball. The fire does not burn within. They’ll get a shot in the arm as Mo Ghumman is confirmed in for the rest of the run, but even with Usama Nausrudeen and Wilson Wang finally present at the same time, this team can’t possibly think that coming together during the playoffs (some of their teammates still don’t know each other’s names) is the way to be a winner. Attendance has been their Achilles’ heel. With an Achilles’ injury, no one gets very far. Ever.
SSS should get Yoshi Kagitomi and Tom Nierenberg back for Sunday’s game against 101, and if that’s the case, they’ll be the lone team of the four to have their roster relatively still intact since the start of the season. You should have seen them against TSIV in their last game. You want to talk about small ball? Without Y2K and T to the N, most of the game, Banglee Takenouchi was guarding Jiang Yu in the post. Bang’s a heckuva player, but you ask Andre Miller to guard Andrew Bogut down low, and Bogut will probably have a field day – Yu did (15 pts, 11 rbs.) Could they be the pick of the litter here?
Well, TSIV certainly isn’t looking like it right now. My, my, my, how the mighty have fallen. At one point in time, not too long ago, TSIV was the darling of the league. A 5-0 start with wins against the Cruisers (their first ever win against them), the defending champs 101, and what would be the Spartans’ only loss of the season, had everybody buzzing about how this could be the InvAsian’s season. Ian Clemente was running away with the MVP and with a ridiculously potent line-up that included Clemente’s brother Chris and JR Bautista, it seemed a new king was emerging.
Fast-forward a couple months, now, things are just ridiculous.
Starting with a waxing at the hands of the Cruisers in their rematch, TSIV finished the rest of the regular season 1-3 and very well could have lost that one win. They lucked out in the opening round when SSS came without over 12-and-a-half feet of centers in their arsenal to deal with Yu. To make matters worse, Ian not only injured his wrist and had to sit for a second, it turns out that since he is currently playing on his college basketball team, he isn't able to play in any outside non-sanctioned leagues, including the Dream League. Poof went 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and freak nasty athleticism from their line-up.
Without him, things started to crumble. And fast. Dave Wong and Kevin Park, a former MVP in this league, hardly looked like their former selves. When Ian was around, and with the other new pieces TSIV had stocked this season, Vegas and KP were relegated to secondary options (if not tertiary), but when Ian vanished, it was too much to ask these guys to suddenly elevate their games to glory days level after not being put in those roles for the course of the season. Again, like in 101’s case, you can’t expect everything to fall into order in the post-season when things change drastically.
To make matters even worse for TSIV, after Wednesday’s game, one of their new players this season made it his last season.
Marco Palacios, a bruising power forward who gave the team points around the basket, rebounds, and crafty passing, quit the team after deciding he’d had enough of the officials in the league (Palacios felt official Lamont Long had it out for him on Wednesday and exchanged heated words after the game with Long for a long time before telling captain Andre Liu that this was it for him.) There are probably other reasons for his decision to walk out on TSIV – namely the fact that he always looked overly frustrated on the court as he worked for position, but rarely saw the ball – but regardless, this is how the man will be remembered for his time in the league: quitting.
There are about 50 other players left in the playoffs who aren’t quitting on their team. Thursday night, 17 or so of them will play their hearts out to see who is the best of the best.
Well, that is until they possibly have to play each other again later.