Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, undoubtedly, is what keeps Jiang Heping up at night. On Wednesday, Jiang, the executive director of China's state television station, announced that the NBA playoffs -- not all sports, mind you, but particularly the NBA playoffs -- were being taken off the air because they are "not in accordance with the atmosphere of the nation after the devastation of the [Sichuan] earthquake. They are too entertaining."
As far as backhanded compliments go, the People's Republic does have a point.
While Boston edges toward Los Angeles and a recasting of the 1987 NBA Finals -- also the last time the Celtics played for a title, a fact lost on no NBA advertisers -- Friday night's game in Detroit figures to run the gamut of entertainment, from outright hostility to child-like exuberance.
In other words, Rasheed Wallace will be playing in an elimination game.
You want entertainment? Once Detroit's player introductions are done, home in on the Pistons' bristly big man. As they always do, the Pistons will link up to create a rhythmically swaying circle, and into it will step Wallace, upright and stomping and throwing his fists into the air. In every literal and figurative sense, he is Detroit's emotional center; when the 6-foot-10 Wallace is done moving, so are the Pistons.
Apply that image to what happens on the court, too, because Wallace -- a player Charles Barkley once called the most talented in the league -- will have to be in the middle of it all if the Pistons are to force a Game 7 on Sunday in Boston and avoid losing in the conference finals for the third consecutive season.
With the starting backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton ailing, and with Tayshaun Prince struggling offensively all series, the Pistons' hopes of at least delaying a Celtics-Lakers matchup could hinge on whether Wallace can deliver a big scoring game -- both inside and outside.
During Wednesday night's 106-102 loss in Boston, he too often made his living standing still. While the 33-year-old Wallace revived his dormant three-pointer, it came at the expense of his presence in the paint. In 39 minutes, he scored 18 points, all on 6-of-9 shooting from deep, and attempted shots only three times within the arc.
To hear Celtics coach
Rasheed's three-pointer can be lethal. But for the Pistons to stave off elimination, Wallace will need to also turn inwards, a goal simultaneously inhibited and mandated by Billups' taxed hamstring (which only made his 26-point, six-assist performance in Game 5 even more impressive); Antonio McDyess' disappearing act (on Wednesday, he went 1-2 from the field with an air ball after collecting 21 points and 16 boards in Game 4); and, most distressingly, Hamilton's newly strained shooting elbow (the Pistons' leading scorer told reporters after Friday's morning shootaround that he will play).
Even further complicating matters, naturally, is also the issue of self-control and technical fouls. Wallace picked up his sixth of the playoffs Wednesday, meaning that just one more will force a one-game suspension, a potentially series-deciding blow even if Detroit does win at home.
"Usually when he gets this close in these situations he'll know to tone it down a little bit," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "Sheed's got to show composure."
Restraint, of course, has never been Wallace's strong suit. There is the part of Wallace -- his beloved and constraining desire for freedom of speech -- that pillories referees and, ironically, winds up agreeing with our man Jiang Heping.
"That [expletive] ain't basketball out there," Wallace said after Game 5 in criticizing the referees for letting Celtics players flop, his comments drawing a $25,000 fine. "It's all [expletive] entertainment. You all should know that [expletive]. It's all [expletive] entertainment."
Left unsaid, for better and for worse: "You're welcome."