Monday June 11th, 2007

A friend recently warned me that you never want to live in two places, that you want to be focused on the job at hand. Nonetheless, all of the writers at my dinner table Sunday night before Game 2 were discussing The Sopranos.

"If they have it on that TV over there,'' suggested one of us, whose name you would recognize if I were mean enough to reveal him, "I'll watch it.''

"You would miss the NBA Finals to watch a television show?'' I asked. As a courtesy I predicted that some blogger with a camera phone would be sure to post a picture of him sitting at a TV set while he was supposed to be covering the game.

"Yeah,'' he said, with an expression that suggested an inherent stupidity to my point of view. "It's the first half. I know what's going to happen. I can write it right now.''

"[It will be] 37-31, San Antonio,'' predicted another renowned writer. Actually it would be 58-33 to San Antonio, so he turned out to be a little bit off. The Spurs spent the opening half treating the Cavaliers like so many victims of Paulie Walnuts. The most pathetic aspect of Cleveland's behavior was how surprised and hurt they looked that this was happening to them, like the lawn maintenance guy who couldn't understand why he was getting beat up, I think it was in Season 5.

LeBron James was benched 2:55 into Game 2 with two fouls and when he returned his team was down 28-17. Through three halves he was having as much impact on the Finals as Johnny Sac in recent weeks. For those of you who don't watch The Sopranos, John Sacramoni died a few weeks ago.

But that analogy isn't fair to LeBron: At halftime of Game 2 he was looking out of place on the same court as the Spurs, as if some kind of intricate TiVo mixup had accidentally transported Vincent Chase to an earlier time slot.

While watching the Cavaliers amount four assists in the first half -- one less than Tim Duncan all by himself -- I found myself wondering who on the court miles below my seat at the top of the artificially-deafening SBC Center was the closest thing to Tony Soprano. The best I could come up with was Gregg Popovich. He is unpredictably charming and occasionally threatening. I doubt very much that he has a psychiatrist, not that there's anything wrong with that, but if there was a Dr. Melfi character in this game it would be Popovich's assistant P.J. Carlesimo, because P.J. shows interest in everybody without being judgmental. I feel very much if I was suffering from panic attacks that P.J. would at least listen to me for a half-minute before saying, "Don't complain to me! I was at Golden State.'' Which, I imagine, is a perspective that would snap me right out of my self-pity.

While Tony Parker was rifling through the Cavaliers' defense like it was the back of a hijacked semi, I was reminded of Christopher Moltisanti. Poor Christopher. We all know what Tony did to him, which was not unlike what Popovich used to want to do to Parker. When I see Parker having matured now to become the most successful point guard of his era, it makes me think that Tony made a big mistake offing his nephew. Christopher could have become a big earner for him.

Before the game there were a lot of conspiracy theories floating around -- and I'm not talking about The Sopranos, though it did play a role. Another friend of mine, who is convinced that everything is fixed one way or another, looked at the choice of Game 2 referees -- Dick Bavetta, Jim Clark and Joe DeRosa -- and decided that meant the league was doing everything it could to help Cleveland win. "Look at it this way,'' he said. "They're going up against The Sopranos tonight, and nobody's going to be watching this instead of that. Plus if San Antonio goes up 2-0 then nobody's going to be tuning into those games in Cleveland either. So they need this to be 1-1 to try to save the ratings next week.''

It was a logical argument, except for the fact as I write this with 1:34 left in the third it's 84-58 San Antonio.

The league took a big hit when the ratings for Game 1 amounted to a 19 percent drop from last year. That wasn't supposed to happen in LeBron James's debut. But I don't remember a lot of people talking about Tony Soprano the morning after his opening night on HBO. It takes time to develop these characters, and from what I could see heading into the fourth quarter the Cavaliers should have maybe been spending a little less time on their high-maintenance scoreboard and a lot more on character development. As I try to tell my boss whenever he's cutting back my text to make room for another picture of Popovich yelling at Parker, I say, "It's all about the writing.''

Let me preface this thought by saying that I'm not obsessed by it, OK? But when watching the performances of the Spurs dancers one is reminded of the hired help at the Bada-Bing. (And when watching the Miami Heat dancers one is really reminded of the Bada-Bing, right down to the musical choices along with the smooth and slightly creepy voice of the PA announcer, who I can easily imagine in a different venue saying, "Gentlemen, put your hands together for Brandy!'')

In what my conspiratorial friend will describe as a pathetic last-chance ratings grab, the Cavaliers outscored their hosts 30-14 in the fourth quarter to put a momentary scare into the Spurs before they finished off their 103-92 win. Near the end Robert (Ralphie Cifaretto) Horry flew out of bounds and tried to kneecap Popovich -- "accidentally,'' I'm sure -- which only made me worry more about what might have happened to Tony. But Popovich jumped right up and none of his capos left the bench to protect him, although maybe they were in on it with Horry, eh?

I admit my entire objective going into this game was to avoid the news of Tony's final outcome. As one of the few Sopranos fans in America unable to change the channel from the basketball equivalent of Lucky Louie, I was for one night less concerned about LeBron's second-half comeback (to finish with 25 points) than whether Tony would survive to endure a long tragic career as the subject of future movies in Hollywood. But what does it say of me about that I worry so about a fictionally psychopathic murderer who kills everything he loves? For that and other answers, I will have to turn to P.J.

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