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Behind Closed Doors

May 21, 2001
May 21, 2001

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May 21, 2001

Photo Credits: Lynn Johnson for Sports Illustrated

Behind Closed Doors

In Round 2 of the NBA Playoff, the stakes are high, and most teams play it close to the vest. But SI shared a week with the Charlotte Hornets as they played the biggest games of their basketball lives

Sunday, Game 1, Milwaukee

This is an article from the May 21, 2001 issue Original Layout

It's less than four hours before one of the biggest games of forward Jamal Mashburn's NBA career. His team, the sixth-seeded Charlotte Hornets, will play the second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Yet like most of his fellow Hornets, Mashburn is consumed by one thought as he shovels slices of toast and sausage links onto his plate during the team's 8 a.m. breakfast at the Wyndham Hotel. "Man, I could use more sleep," he groans.

By NBA standards this early wake-up call is cruel and unusual punishment. But because of NBC's tripleheader playoff schedule, the two small-market teams must tip off at 11:30 local time. "Last time I played this early was AAU," says Mashburn, 28, Charlotte's best player. "I need to fool my body into thinking it's night." Eating a piece of ham, coach Paul Silas, who's more a father figure and teacher than a boss to his players, commences an economics lesson, explaining that television coverage builds up league revenues, which boost salaries. Then he stops, waving his hands in disgust. "Aw, it's too early," Silas says. "This is bulls---."

In two shifts—the first for rookies and reserves, the second for veterans—a bus transports the players from the hotel to the Bradley Center. The arena is notorious for having the league's most cramped visitors' quarters. The Hornets, however, are pleasantly surprised to find that instead of the usual broom closet they can use the large locker room usually occupied by the Milwaukee Admirals, a minor league hockey team. One problem: "Yuck," says forward Scott Burrell as he drops his bag in front of his stall. "It still smells like hockey in here."

As the players file in, they make arrangements for their allotment of comp tickets—as much a pregame ritual as stretching and shooting—and put on their headbands, a symbol of solidarity that they adopted for the postseason. While the rest of the team warms up on the floor, getting accustomed to the arena's bright lighting and loose rims, Mashburn remains in the locker room and goes through a series of byzantine stretching and meditational exercises with his personal trainer, Ed Downs. Mashburn was a member of the Heat three years ago when he started working with Downs, a black belt in jujitsu who taught martial arts to coach Pat Riley's kids. At the time Mashburn couldn't touch his toes; now he can do splits. When Mashburn was traded to Charlotte last summer, he retained Downs, figuring that if the added flexibility and mental toughness tacked an extra year onto his career, the investment would be worthwhile. Still, there's another, perhaps unintended consequence of Downs's ubiquitous presence: It elevates Mashburn's status on the team. He has his own "guy," while his colleagues share the services of the strength and conditioning coach provided by the Hornets.

As Silas feared, the nine-day layoff after the first round leaves his minions more than a little rusty. Charlotte trails the Bucks by as many as 22 points, but Silas's harshest rebuke is a simple "Come on, Teal! We're better than this!" He learned to be terse on the bench while serving as an assistant under Riley with the New York Knicks in 1991–92. "Pat would go on for 45 minutes before every game, and the guys would just roll their eyes," Silas says. "I believe that if you're a man of few words, when you have something worthwhile to say, guys will listen."

The Hornets close to within four in the fourth quarter but fall 104–92. Still, there is little despondency in their locker room afterward. Reserve forward Lee Nailon blasts the Tupac CD Until the End of Time; players sing and yell in the shower, then make plans for the evening. In the corridor outside the locker room both teams congregate, like opposing lawyers on a lunch break. Charlotte forward Derrick Coleman and Bucks sixth man Tim Thomas, former teammates in Philadelphia, embrace and walk 40 feet with their arms around each other. Hornets reserve guard Hersey Hawkins and Milwaukee center Ervin Johnson, former teammates in Seattle, discuss their kids and arrange to have dinner. Bucks point guard Sam Cassell holds court with several Hornets beneath a television monitor airing the Lakers-Kings game. When Shaquille O'Neal throws down a particularly fierce dunk, Cassell asks, "Who can stop that motherf-----?" Laughter and words of agreement echo through the hall.

The 57-year-old Silas doesn't approve of this camaraderie, like much about contemporary NBA culture, but realizes he is powerless to change it. "We wanted to rip the other guys' hearts out," he says of the players of his era, which ran from 1964 to '80. "We would never get friendly like that after a playoff game."

Coleman has a different take. "It's just basketball, man," he says. "Besides, we could be on the same team next year."

Monday, off day, Milwaukee

It's cold and drizzling, and downtown is eerily desolate. Most of the Hornets sleep in and saunter to the Wyndham lobby just in time to catch the 10:30 bus to practice at the Bradley Center, five blocks away. Wearing flip-flops, they carry their basketball shoes in teal or purple mesh bags. Players treat their feet like antique sports cars, putting hard miles on them only when necessary. "You can play through lots of injuries," says Hawkins, "but if your feet aren't right, forget it. Players in this league will run circles around you."

As Coleman emerges from the revolving door, he is confronted by a pack of middle-aged men holding Sharpie pens and glossy photos. He keeps walking to the bus and doesn't turn around, even as one mutters "Jerk." "I hate signing for adults," Coleman says. "These guys are collectors with stacks of cards, and they want me to sign eight times. Then they sell them. If a kid wants an autograph, that's great. But why should I be supporting these guys? They're not fans, they're businessmen."

Contrary to his reputation as one of the league's biggest head cases, the 33-year-old Coleman is thoughtful, engaging and at times even charming. He is a big brother to many of the younger players and a vocal, powerful presence on the team. That he is no fool makes his breezy attitude about defense, his Yes-I'll-have-another-slice diet and his slovenly practice habits all the more maddening. Unlike most bad apples, Coleman knows right from wrong. All too often he simply chooses the latter.

From the beginning of the season he has been a source of controversy. After signing Coleman to a five-year, $40 million deal in January 1999, executive vice president Bob Bass leaned on Silas to give Coleman minutes. Silas resisted, noting that Coleman is out of shape; during the regular season, Charlotte was 12–22 when he played and 34–14 when he didn't. (In Game 1, the Hornets were outscored by 17 points during the 10 minutes Coleman was on the floor.) When he did give him time, Silas wondered what kind of message he was sending to the rest of the players.

Coleman has divided his teammates, too. Most of them side with Silas; one veteran flatly says the Hornets would be a better team if Coleman weren't on the roster. But there also is a Coleman clique that turned against Silas after the coach spoke candidly in public about the power forward's toxic influence. Point guard Baron Davis, at 22 the youngest player on the team, recently insinuated to reporters that the team's problem wasn't Coleman—it was Silas turning Coleman into a cause celebre. Despite Davis's loyalty, when he is the last player to board the bus to the practice, Coleman yells from the back, "Young fella, it shouldn't take that long to put on your thong!"

Before hitting the court, the Hornets meet in their locker room to watch a tape of Game 1. Silas and his assistants have seen the film twice and know precisely when to stop it to point out miscues. Like a middle manager leading a Power Point presentation, Silas reduces his message to catchphrases: Get back on defense. Come out with more energy. Fight through those screens. Don't give [Bucks guard Ray] Allen those sorts of open looks.

By 2 p.m. the team is back at the Wyndham, and the players scatter. Otis Thorpe, a 38-year-old backup big man, and starting forward P.J. Brown, a pro's pro who works out diligently, attend an optional weightlifting session at the hotel's gym. Burrell's tee time with Allen is rained out, so he and shooting guard David Wesley watch a Chris Farley video. Mashburn and starting center Elden Campbell hit a nearby mall. Davis and 6'9" reserve Eddie Robinson put on rap music and play video games on the Dreamcast console that Robinson brought in his carry-on bag. While every married player brought his wife to Miami for the previous series, only a handful of spouses have made it to Milwaukee. One is Brown's wife, Dee, a former basketball star at Louisiana Tech who often watches game tapes with her husband and critiques his play. ("He needs to look for his shot," she says. "It drives me crazy when he doesn't.") When the Browns can't track down a VCR, they take in Along Came a Spider.

At 6:30 five players meet in the lobby to attend a Brewers-Cubs game. It's rare for such a large group to go out. But choice seats (provided gratis by the Brewers) and the dearth of nightlife in Milwaukee prove an irresistible combination. Arriving at Miller Park, Wesley realizes he has an extra ticket and gives it to a downtrodden-looking fan outside the gate. Vaguely recognizing Wesley, the man looks at the section number, accepts the ticket, then asks for an autograph. Wesley flashes Burrell an incredulous look but signs. Without uttering a word of thanks, the fan takes his $32 ducat and says, "I still hope the Bucks beat y'all."

A former pitcher drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, Burrell is the de facto leader of the outing. Perhaps because he plays scant minutes, this is his way of connecting with his teammates. After buying them a preliminary round of liquid sustenance (save Davis, who doesn't drink), Burrell guides them to their seats, three rows behind home plate. When Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa steps in, any too-cool-for-school veneer vanishes and the Hornets are common fans cheering for a larger-than-life hero. "SAMMMMMM-MAYYYYY!" Mashburn yells.

"Show us some love, Sammy!" Wesley joins in.

Even Davis, who's been on his cell phone for more than an inning, removes his earpiece to scream, "SOOOOOOO-SAAAAAA!"

Like a kid, Mashburn asks, "Think he can hear us?"

In the middle innings a young woman a few rows back asks the Hornets, "Do you guys play basketball?" Before they answer, she asks Wesley, "Are you [Bucks 6'8" forward] Darvin Ham?"

Without missing a beat, the 6'1" Wesley responds, "No. I'm his little brother, Darvin Bacon."

This sends his teammates into paroxysms of laughter, and for the next 10 minutes they razz Wesley. "Hey, Darvin, how come you never learned to shoot?"

Finally Wesley fires back. "What are you laughing at?" he says to Mashburn. "Weren't we in Cleveland when the woman came up to you and said, 'I can't believe I'm meeting Tyrone Hill'?"

Just like that, Mashburn becomes the object of derision. "Tyrone Hill, he looks like a horse!" says one player. Another one adds: "A horse with dentures!"

"Tyrone Hill, that's cold," says Mashburn, shaking his head. "I'm still hot over that one."

While almost half his team is watching baseball, Silas and his wife, Carolyn, celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. So to speak. Unable to catch the Mavericks-Spurs game on TV in their room, they walk down the street to Knuckles, the bar in the Hyatt. (Silas, who hasn't had a drink in more than a decade, orders a soda.) When the game is over, they take a moonlight stroll to a trendy bistro for dessert—strawberry cheesecake and vanilla ice cream with pecans on the side. Their date is interrupted when a worker recognizes Silas and asks if he could deliver a P. Diddy CD to Davis. This sort of gesture irks Silas, who wonders aloud why everyday people feel the need to shower millionaire athletes with gifts. Though Silas, a man given to Sam Cooke and '50s music, agrees with Greg Allman's sentiment that rap is short for crap, he obliges. "P. Diddy," he says in his basso profundo voice. "Where do they come up with this?"

As he and Carolyn reminisce about their marriage, Silas chokes up describing the delivery of his son, Stephen, now a 27-year-old Charlotte assistant coach. Paul was on the road for the birth of his first two children, daughters Donna and Paula. "When I was there for Stephen, it was probably the happiest day of my life," he says. Thinking back to their wedding day, Carolyn laments how little contact she has with her old friends. Too many moves, too much time elapsed. "This is embarrassing, but I can't remember the name of my maid of honor," she says. "Paul, what was her name?" Her husband laughs. "You expect me to know that?" he says. "I'm still figuring out how to win Game 2."

Tuesday, Game 2, Milwaukee

Lest he be dressed down again by Coleman, Davis is the first Hornet to board the bus for the team's 10:30 shootaround at the Bradley Center. Game-day shootarounds exist for two reasons: to get players out of bed and to get their minds on the game. This session is hardly strenuous. Some players don't remove their sweats as they walk through sets, and several consult their two-way pagers—a de rigueur accoutrement among NBA players—during the hour.

Midway through a light three-point shooting drill, Coleman gets hot. Three, four, five, six straight shots flit through the net. "I'm on fire, Coach Rose," he says. "Better get me the ball, Coach." Assistant coach Lee Rose, a 63-year-old grandfather of three with a full head of spectacularly white hair, stifles a laugh and feeds Coleman a crisp bounce pass. Coleman bottoms another three with his lefty stroke, offering a tantalizing glimpse of his potential. "On fire, Coach Rose," he says. Finally, a jumper falls short, barely grazing the rim. "Motherf---ing wind," yells Coleman. Rose turns his back to the player and rolls his eyes.

In the afternoon Davis spends four hours in his hotel room immersed in PlayStation 2 with three friends from home—Armando (Shorty) Ramos, who owns a limousine business; Tremaine Ross, an AAU coach; and Robert (Dirty) Somers, a mortgage broker—whom he has flown in from Los Angeles and put up at the Wyndham. Like most NBA players, Davis is wary of new acquaintances who often seem to want a piece of him, so he bestows his trust and generosity on those he was close to before he became a star. The group talks about the L.A. hoops scene and mutual acquaintances, using a slang foreign to anyone else on the Hornets. In short, the three amigos give Davis a sense of place. "They're here to support me," he says, "and they know I support them."

The tenor and flow of Game 2 is remarkably similar to that of the opener. The Hornets begin by playing emotionally vacant basketball and soon trail by double digits. During a second-quarter timeout, Silas starts to diagram a play. Pausing for several seconds he slams down his clipboard and barks: "Dammit, just play basketball and be aggressive!" Behind him, Wesley yells to no one in particular: "This is the playoffs! We can't make these f---ing mistakes!" Several moments later Coleman whips off his headband. It was simply a matter of comfort, he later maintains, but it seems symbolic: The team's unity appears to be eroding.

Late in the third quarter Coleman strains his lower back, a typical injury for an out-of-shape athlete. He returns to the bench for several minutes but then tells referee Danny Crawford that he's going to the locker room for treatment. Problem is, he fails to communicate that to Silas, who, believing Coleman is still in the game, sends only four players onto the floor, an automatic technical foul. Allen converts to give Milwaukee a 78–68 lead.

In Coleman's absence Charlotte rallies again. Twenty rows behind the Hornets' bench, Dee Brown smiles as her husband looks for his shot—"Finally," she says—and scores 17 second-half points to help cut the deficit to one. On the game's final sequence, the Bucks miss a jumper but Johnson beats the Hornets to the rebound and tips the ball away as time expires. It is lost on no one that the margin of Milwaukee's 91–90 victory was Coleman's technical foul.

In contrast to Game 1 the mood in the locker room is funereal. Shoulders slump. There is no music, no shouting, no razzing. Disgruntled players slather themselves with moisturizer, dress and head for the bus, barely making eye contact with the Bucks who clog the halls. They board with Discmen fastened to their heads, deaf to the chants of Sweep! from the Milwaukee faithful.

Wednesday, off day, Charlotte

Territorial instincts grow more powerful during the postseason. Players and coaches speak incessantly about "defending our turf" and "holding serve on our court." The home court advantage in the playoffs is unmistakable, but not so much because of rabid fans, splashy pregame introductions or generous officiating. The edge is more subtle: It's about rhythm. At home players sleep in their own beds, drive their own cars, eat at their favorite haunts, wake up to their spouses and children. "You're more yourself when you're at home; home is who you are," says Campbell, an unlikely existentialist. "I don't think I can describe it any better than that."

The Hornets' charter flight left immediately after Game 2 and landed an hour and 40 minutes later, at 2 a.m. By 10 o'clock the players are watching tape and practicing at their training facility in Fort Mill, S.C., 10 miles from Charlotte. Despite all the travel and being down two games to none, the Hornets are surprisingly energetic. They scream as they dunk, talk trash and goad Davis as he buries three after three. His streak is particularly welcome; on Tuesday, Davis went 0 for 4 from the floor and to Silas's dismay passed up scads of open looks. The news that Coleman is doubtful for Game 3 with a lower back strain hardly dampens spirits.

Silas is pleased by his players' passion but concerned about their attitude. In the previous series they perceived the Heat as a mortal enemy. Mashburn's former Miami teammates had questioned his heart while Silas had an ax to grind with Riley, whom he believed had spread rumors that Silas was lazy (which Riley denies). Milwaukee, on the other hand, a team filled with likable players, inspires neither fear nor loathing. As he watches Game 2 tape, Silas is particularly upset to see Robinson help Allen off the floor after the Bucks guard had dunked. "This hasn't been a cutthroat kind of series yet for us," Silas says. "We've got to find a way to get back to that."

Thursday, Game 3, Charlotte

In the Hornets' inaugural season, 12 years ago, they finished 20–62, and the city held a parade in their honor. For the next decade the team drew crowds of more than 23,000 a game. Since then, fan support has plummeted; the Charlotte Coliseum was only half full for a playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers last year. This season, the team averaged a franchise-low 15,010 fans despite winning 46 games. Hornets owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge claimed that dwindling ticket sales and a charmless arena with no club seats and few corporate suites could force the team to leave Charlotte. In April they filed a relocation application with the NBA and appeared to be Memphis-bound. "The only question was whether we were going to beat the Vancouver Grizzlies to the punch," says one team executive.

After the team's unexpected sweep of the Heat, however, it's likely that the Hornets will stay put. Polls show that a June 5 referendum on whether to subsidize a $205 million arena—as well as a museum and African-American cultural center—will pass by a wide margin. After the Miami series, the owners withdrew their application to move. "Who would have guessed that one best-of-five series would determine the team's future in Charlotte?" says Silas. Still, there's plenty of room on the team's bandwagon. By late afternoon more than 6,000 seats remain unsold.

Two hours before the game, players trade one-liners in the Charlotte locker room, but the tension is palpable. "You gonna be like Iverson and score 54 tonight?" Brown asks Mashburn, who grunts in response. Amazingly, it has been 13 days since the Hornets' last victory. A loss tonight and summer vacation looms. "Let's be honest, no one comes back from 3–0," says Wesley. "No question, this is the biggest game of our season."

Twenty minutes before the tip-off Silas gathers the players in the locker room for a quick sermon. "Remember that NBA stands for No Boys Allowed," he says. "Let's have fun tonight. But you don't have fun unless you're kicking ass." The team holds an additional players-only huddle at the lip of the tunnel leading to the court. "This is playoff basketball, this is war!" yells Brown. "Let's show some motherf------ pride!" Davis breaks into freestyle rap. If you're gonna ride, you're gonna ride with me/If you're gonna bang, you're gonna bang with me/If you're gonna bark, you're gonna go.... At which point every member of the team emits a woof, woof, woof and charges onto the court. That is, every member except Coleman, who arrives at the Coliseum 10 minutes before the game starts. Sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes, he is the only Hornet without a headband.

Unlike in Games 1 and 2, Charlotte begins strongly, except for some abysmal free throw shooting. As the first-half buzzer sounds, Wesley hits a game-tying three to the delight of his mother, Ramona, who watches the entire game standing behind the basket because she's too nervous to sit. At halftime Silas scans a 90-second video clip of first-half highlights, prepared by Drew Perry, the team's video coordinator. Perry has noticed a new Milwaukee set, a pick-and-roll with "weakside action pin down." Silas shows the tape to his players on the locker room's big screen and tells them how to defend against the new formation. He then offers quick pointers for the second half: I want to see us score at least 26 points a quarter. Baron, you have to be more aggressive. Let's keep [Scott] Williams off the glass.

Before a raucous crowd of 17,392, the Hornets play one of their strongest halves of the season. While he falls short of Iverson's benchmark, Mashburn scores 36 points. Davis, who missed his first four shots, finds his stroke. Brown snags 16 rebounds. After scoring the prescribed 26 points in the fourth quarter—and 25 in the third—Charlotte prevails 102–92.

The night's most poignant moment comes as the team walks off the floor to deafening cheers. In the first row of the players' guest section Kendall Phills rises and waves her late husband's old jersey. It has been more than a year since swingman Bobby Phills was killed in an auto accident less than a mile from the arena, and his absence hangs over the team. If the Hornets never formally dedicated the postseason to Phills, it's only because they didn't have to. "He's always on our mind, always coming up in stories we tell or thoughts we have," says Silas. For Kendall, sitting among the wives is part of her grief therapy.

The team's swagger has returned full force. Amid clapping and yelling, Silas marches to the middle of the room and yells, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Let's do it again Sunday!" The players rehash the game and recount specific plays with staggering accuracy. ("Way to pick up that charge in the fourth quarter," says 6'10" rookie Jamaal Magloire to Thorpe. "That was huge.") That each Hornet who saw action made a significant contribution makes the victory particularly satisfying. "I'll feel even better when we win on Sunday," says Wesley. "Not if we win, when we win." As the room bubbles with bravado, no one much cares that after the game, Coleman made a beeline from the bench to the parking lot.

Friday, off day, Charlotte

Hawkins resists his temptation to hit the snooze button and rises at 6 a.m. The father of three boys, Brandon, 11, Corey, 10, and Devon, 7, he knows that he is needed. While his wife, Jennifer, makes breakfast, Hawkins irons his sons' clothes and helps them gather their books before he chauffeurs them to school.

While he has never been a star, Hawkins, one of the NBA's alltime gentlemen, is in the 12th year of a more-than-respectable career. He has invested wisely and now can give his kids what he never had growing up in a blighted Chicago neighborhood. The family lives in a bona fide mansion on Charlotte's south side. Each kid has his own computer, and the boys take golf and acting classes "My sons are growing up in a different environment—a different world, really," Hawkins says.

The glaring downside to being a well-paid athlete is the time away from home. This season alone Hawkins has missed more of his kids' games, school plays and choir recitals than he'd like. He notes wistfully that his two older sons are already too cool to kiss their father goodbye. As Hawkins drops off Devon in front of his school at 7:45, Dad gets a smack on the cheek. "I'll tell you this," Hawkins says, practically glowing from the kiss. "Having three kids sure puts the playoffs in perspective."

While his teammates disperse after practice to meet their families or make tee times, Wesley jumps in his white Porsche and heads for McKee Road Elementary School. The player who was speeding alongside Phills at the time of the fatal crash, Wesley was profoundly affected by the accident. Declining the team's recommendation that he seek professional help, Wesley says he's channeled much of his emotion into basketball. It's no coincidence, he believes, that the year after Phills's death, he's having his best season.

The team's captain, Wesley is also the honorary chairman of Books and Bugs, a program the Hornets sponsor that encourages kids to read. By perusing more pages than any other class in the area during the school year, Ms. Helderman's second-graders at McKee Road have won the right to today's pizza party hosted by Wesley. NBA players often relish making community appearances the same way kids relish eating vegetables, but seated on a chair in the middle of the classroom, Wesley is at ease. Much as the kids enjoy the company of this genial, unimposing man serving them pizza and making them laugh, they aren't particularly impressed by his stature as a Hornet. Not until Wesley presents the kids with an autographed basketball does he wow them. As he points to his signature on the ball, the children gasp in awe. In unison they say, "You know cursive!"

Saturday, off day, Charlotte

Silas has watched more than 20 hours of tape since the series began a week ago. At his spartan cinder-block office at the practice facility, he has also spent untold hours discussing strategy and substitution patterns with his assistants. He has sat at his desk—it's festooned with a crossword puzzle dictionary, a copy of the Vince Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, and a handwritten congratulatory letter from Riley sent after the Miami series—and read accounts of Bucks games on the Internet. He has implored his team to force Allen into making turnovers when he gets airborne. Now Silas is starting to go stir crazy. "There's so much time between games, and only so much preparing you can do, only so many times you can watch the same team on tape," he says. "I just want to play already."

After an early practice Silas spends his day at home, a spacious, well-appointed house filled with porcelain figurines. Wearing a black T-shirt and tan shorts, he lounges on a leather couch, quietly watching the Mavericks-Spurs game. "He loves the playoffs, loves this time of year," says Carolyn. His gaze fixed on the game, Silas adds, "It's when coaches' reputations are made." As for his own reputation, he senses that it can only improve after Game 4. "This team has a way of getting down and then getting back in a groove," he says. "I'm pretty sure we're back in business."

Sunday, Game 4, Charlotte

"What a beautiful, beautiful day," Nailon says to his teammates as he walks into the locker room. "I mean, it's a beautiful day."

"What are you, a f------ weatherman?" comes the response from the back of the room.

It's 11 a.m., 90 minutes before Game 4, and the Hornets could scarcely be more laid-back. The TV is turned to the sitcom One World, Tupac blares from a stereo, and the players speak more about their moms—seven of them are in town for Mother's Day—than about basketball. Wooldridge enters and spots Coleman. "So, DC, you gonna wear a headband today?" the owner asks, patting Coleman on the back, the same back that is sore and kept him out of Game 3. "Oh, no doubt," Coleman replies. He will suit up today (headband included), but he won't get into the game.

For the first time in the series the Hornets come out blazing, and they take a 24–11 lead. Davis puts the crowd of 18,756 in a lather when he blows past Ham for an unmolested slam and unleashes a primal scream. The technical he receives for taunting is almost worth it. By halftime Charlotte is ahead 50–45, but Silas is concerned. Despite getting plenty of open looks, Allen has made only one field goal; it's only a matter of time before he'll catch fire. As usual Silas keeps his instructions simple: Force them to the perimeter and challenge the shot. Watch the Bucks try to spring Allen with a zipper set. Remember your block-outs.

As Silas feared, Allen scores 12 points in the third quarter, and with nine minutes left in the fourth, the game is tied at 70. On the bench Silas gives Mashburn a wink and sends him into the game. In a scene out of one of those formulaic movies, Mashburn nods subtly and scores nine of his game-high 31 points during a 12–2 Charlotte run. Milwaukee never recovers, and the Hornets win 85–78. Davis asserts himself as well, with 18 points, including three threes, and seven assists. Allen commits six turnovers. "Now we got ourselves a series," Silas bellows as he enters the locker room. "Time to go up to Milwaukee and steal a game."

The team will watch tape and practice lightly on Monday and then board a 3 p.m. flight for Tuesday's Game 5. But this night Silas has more pressing business. He and Stephen are taking Carolyn out for Mother's Day. "She's had her fill of pizza and burgers," Silas says. "I think we're going French tonight, but wherever she wants is fine. She deserves to be pampered."

Silas dresses quickly, and as he leaves for the parking lot, a well-wisher slaps him on the shoulder, saying, "Happy Mother's Day, Coach." Silas stops, grins and laughs his deep belly laugh. "It's sure been a good day," he says, "for this mother."