It’s the Wednesday before our second game and our captain has been pumping iron feverishly at the gym. He has decided that the stat keeper hasn’t accurately recorded his rebounding figures. The Captain, mensch though he is, nonetheless has a tendency toward hyperbole, and every day he claims to have a different rebound total for Game One. Today, it’s 14. (He was officially credited on the NBAE website with three.) He tells me that word on the street is that I didn’t play well. I tell him I’m aware of that fact and then, not able to help myself and feeling like a high schooler, I ask who said that.
“Everybody,” he replies.
This is not the sort of encouragement that instills confidence, true as it is. The Coach’s Son’s father saw the debacle against the Bulls and was appalled at how we slaughtered the game he loves. There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to prevent our guards from firing shots every time they touch the ball, so I wonder if a little coaching from Senior might stanch the flow. We need to share the ball if we are going to beat our next opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks. Our guards are our most athletic, most talented players. Time to show it.
We’re the opening game of the day and our first unit comes out gangbusters, building a solid lead before our second unit gives it away. There is better ball movement, though, more picks set, reversing the ball, and improved defense. After getting a goose egg in the first game, I get four open looks from beyond the 3-point arc and knock them down in the first half. At halftime, the Captain tries to gather us in a huddle, when Young Actor has a Coach Carter moment and interrupts, blurting out, “Listen up, we’re ahead, and their objective is gonna be to try and score points, so we gotta stop them.” I look over at New York, who gives me a look like Is this kid retarded? He wasn’t exactly giving Knute Rockne a run for his money.
We’re winning for most of the game, but the pesky Bucks, led by a former boxing world champion and handsome soap-type actor, hang around. Our lead narrows. In the closing seconds we’re up 1 with the ball. Coach’s Son, rather than passing to English, who is much too surly to allow anyone to steal it from him, dribbles down the court only to turn it over. The Bucks frantically pass it up the court. Four, three, two, one, the clock hits zero—the crowd is standing—and they don’t get a shot off in time. But there is no horn, no replay, and so they allow a shot after time has expired and swish!—it goes in and the Bucks mob each other in celebration. They win by 1 point. We’re stunned. One of our teammates gripes to another, “We got more fucked than Siegfried at Roy’s.” I seek out the commissioner, knowing him to be fair-minded and reasonable. He’s in the stands watching the games, and, trying to temper my disappointment, I ask, “Does it matter that they didn’t get the shot off and it shouldn’t have counted?”
“It was an awful call,” he admits. “But don’t worry, you guys will make the playoffs.” It’s a small solace. Though losing stinks, I do admit that putting up a decent showing takes the monkey off my back—I played so bad in the first game that it was weighing on me all week. The bottom line, though, is we need to get off the snide. Next opponent: the Philadelphia 76ers, led by a music-video director who was last year’s league MVP. It won’t be an easy game, and dissension is mounting.