I spend the week after our sweeping defeat to Dallas in Turkey.
There I re-visit again famous Troy and Pergamum, that famous mountain city I dreamt of long before I ever saw it on a tour the fall semester I spent in Spain. I bathe in the hot springs of Pamukkale and bruise my feet walking the rocky, beautiful white terraces of the same region to take in the majestic views.
I relax, but only a little, for I'm heavy-hearted and full-minded.
I don't know where to go from here. Karl's been a great coach, but is he really the one to lead us to a title? If we keep him, what about the rest of his staff? Do we need a legitimate franchise player to win a championship? If we do, do we have the pieces needed to get one?
Turkey, bastion of the classical West, with its many ancient Greek sites, and glittering jewel of the Ottoman Empire, brings me no answers, no solutions, but it's nice to get away, even as I'm ironically contemplating trading away our not-so-young Turk.
When I return to the States, I find out the Lakers beat the Rockets in 6, the Raptors beat the Pistons in 5 and Atlanta/Boston went the full seven games before the Celtics finally prevailed.
Over the next several days, I watch in amazement as the Mavericks take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Lakers, only have to Los Angeles come right back to force a Game 7, rather remnisicient of our own Finals run a few years ago. Toronto/Boston goes to seven as well.
In the end, nothing can keep the Raptors from repeating as East Conference Champions and as for Dallas/Lakers, the Mavericks pull it off, downing the defending champions 121-109, Dirk Nowitzki scoring 34 points, Jonte Jones with 28 points and 10 rebounds. I wonder if maybe I haven't underestimated this Mavericks team.
The Finals promises to be interesting. I quickly compare the teams.
T.J. Ford vs Jason Terry
Ford has developed into a textbook pass-first PG and is averaging 13.7 points and 11.4 assists in the playoffs. That said, he's nothing special on defense.
Terry's been playing like a man who knows this might be his last chance at a title and is averaging 16 points and 8.2 assists. A better defender than Ford, but with little stealing instincts.
Larry Hughes vs. Josh Howard
Hughes is a big part of why the Raptors have two straight Finals appearances. An underrated scorer and a terrific defender, he's averaging 17.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in the postseason.
Howard continues to underachieve, but he still has 13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in the postseason to show for it. That said, he's liable to have a difficult time against Hughes.
Andrea Bargnani vs. Dirk Nowitzki
17.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks is all you need to know to illustrate that Bargnani is still playing well as the Third Musketeer at SF.
Who cares if Nowitzki's only averaging 5.2 rebounds in the playoffs? His 22.7 points is more than making up for it, just as his size is making up for his defensive deficiencies in a big way.
Chris Bosh vs. Daniel Wilder
Bosh has postseason averages of 20.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks and is the leading scorer of the Three Musketeers. He's one of the most gifted, most well-rounded players in the league.
That Wilder's starting and this team is in the Finals is still surprising. 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in the playoffs and with absolutely no special skills.
Jonte Jones vs. Greg Oden
This is the marquee matchup and Jones has looked like the best C since Shaquille O'Neal in this postseason: 23.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.7 blocks. Forget the talk about Jones being one of the best centers in the league someday. He's -the- best C in the league right now at 22 years old, in just his third season of the league. He's the LeBron James of centers.
Oden's 14.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in the playoffs don't look so great compared to Jones and let's be honest here, Oden's MVP Award last season was an absolute joke. That said, if there's anybody, anybody at all in this league who can shut J-Flash down, it's Oden, the best defensive center in the game.
Quincy Douby and Chris Wilcox are solid all-arounders, but there's not much here for the Raptors.
Devin Harris looks a lot more like the player he once showed the promise of being in this playoffs, averaging 7.9 points and 5.6 assists in the playoffs. Jeff Green is averaging 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds off the bench and Mike Patterson is eager to prove Toronto wrong for trading him earlier in the season.
This is going to be a very, very close series. But Toronto has been here before and the feeling is that this is the Raptors' year.
Prediction: Toronto in 7
Chris Bosh scores 28 and Greg Oden has 16 points and 20 rebounds, but Dirk Nowitzki doubles with 19 points and 11 rebounds , Josh Howard and Jason Terry have 23 and 20 points respectively and Mike Patterson shows he's a man on a mission with 16 bench points. The worst part about this game for Toronto? Jonte Jones was 0/5 and limited to 20 minutes because of foul trouble, finishing with just 2 points.
Toronto 93 Dallas 100
Greg Oden makes sure this series isn't going to be a sweep with 23 points and 22 rebounds and Chris Bosh affirms it with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Dirk Nowitzki doubles with 17 points and 12 rebounds, Jason Terry scores 28 and Jonte Jones rebounds nicely with 23 points, but it isn't enough in this thriller.
Toronto 105 Dallas 103
The series shifts to Toronto and for the first time, the game's not even close. Jonte Jones has 23 points and 10 rebounds and Jeff Green and Mike Patterson contribute 12 and 11 points off the bench for Dallas, but it's not enough as the Raptors counter with a balanced effort. Greg Oden gets 16 points and 11 rebounds, Chris Bosh scores 22, T.J. Ford doubles with 16 points and 19 assists and Chris Wilcox chimes in with 16 points with the reserves to make this a laugher.
Dallas 87 Toronto 112
And we've an even series as Dirk Nowitzki explodes for 39 points, Jonte Jones garners 14 points and 10 rebounds and Mike Patterson and Jeff Green have 15 and 11 bench points respectively. Chris Bosh kept his 20+ point per game streak alive with 21 points, but Toronto just couldn't get it done.
Dallas 114 Toronto 102
Another close game in the pivotal contest and Jonte Jones plays big with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Jason Terry scores 20 as well. Chris Bosh, on the other hand, is a dreadful 4/15 and sees his 20 point streak come to an end with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Greg Oden had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Chris Wilcox 12 bench points, but Dallas steals the critical 3-2 advantage.
Dallas 103 Toronto 98
Chris Bosh was furious with himself over his Game 5 performance and charges back with 25 points and 10 rebounds, Greg Oden teams with him for 13 points and 14 rebounds, T.J. Ford is in it with 11 points and 14 assists and Chris Wilcox and Quincy Douby provide the support with 16 and 11 points a piece from the bench. Dallas can only offer 22 and 11 respective bench points from Mike Patterson and Salim Stoudamire, as Jonte Jones played just 8 minutes before being taken out with a shoulder injury. Good news for Mavericks fans, as he'll be back for Game 7.
Toronto 111 Dallas 93
Can it get any better than this? Dallas is on the ropes and fights back in the fourth quarter to force OT. We had some absolutely inspired performances this game. For Toronto: Chris Bosh - 36 points, 11 rebounds, Greg Oden - 21 points, 25 rebounds, 5 blocks, Larry Hughes - 23 points, T.J. Ford - 13 points, 12 assists. For Dallas: Jonte Jones - 24 points, 11 rebounds, Jason Terry 19 points, 10 assists and Mike Patterson - 20 bench points. But in the end, the Mavericks couldn't get done in overtime, as Dirk Nowitzki had a dreadful 3-for-17 day on the most important night of his entire career. The Raptors finally bring home their long-deserved NBA championship trophy.
Toronto 115 Dallas 108 (OT)
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)