That part of him
hasn't wholly disappeared. On Feb. 12 in Miami, Wade outscored the Pistons in
the fourth quarter, and the Heat won by two. Before the game the Miami players
were sitting at their lockers when the arena's P.A. system started blaring the
Doobie Brothers' classic tune Long Train Running. Riley then came in through a
door, gyrating. The players stared, looked at one another, stared some more.
Riley didn't say a word, but for a few long minutes he jerked, he moved, he
spun. "Half the dances he was doing? I didn't know what the heck they
were," Haslem says.
stopped, red-faced and winded, and stated the day's lesson: Be loose. If they
didn't know it before, they all knew now. The man is capable of just about
Alonzo Mourning is
on his hands and knees. He's down on the Pistons' floor, gasping; no one
touched him, and yet something is wrong. Even before this late March clash in
Auburn Hills, Mourning's constant refrain had been mere survival. "Today
could be my last game," he says. "I could get a call from my doctor,
and he'd say, 'I can't let you play Sunday'. Next year is not promised to me.
Next game isn't."
But, no, it's not
his kidney, and finally Mourning is up and limping off the floor. It's a torn
right calf muscle, and it could well end Miami's hopes of dethroning Detroit.
It's certainly the end of Miami's hopes this night. Although the Heat is up by
six when Mourning goes down, and doubles that lead before halftime, the Pistons
core of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and
Rasheed Wallace sticks to its game plan: front O'Neal and deny Wade the ball,
play relentless, smart basketball--Riley-ball, in fact. When Detroit makes its
run, the Heat has no answer, and with Mourning gone, the Pistons steam to the
Just after the
players return to their locker room, the door opens. Riley steps out and states
a simple truth: "They took it from us." And suddenly there's a hint
that his massive gamble--the summer deals, the coaching change--could go south.
Riley knows too well that the clock is ticking: Payton is 37, Williams 30,
Walker will be 30 this summer. Everyone knows. "We've got to do it, and
we'd better do it," O'Neal says. "Because the time is now, the setting
is now, we're built for now."
played since Detroit, and Miami finished with 52 wins, seven fewer than last
year. Riley looked hollowed out down the stretch. When he came to Miami in '95,
Riley spoke of a champion's parade but vowed he wouldn't chase titles into his
60s. "That'll kill you," he said then. The last time he coached even
close to a contender, in 2000, the Knicks stole another Game 7 and Mourning
found him weeping at his desk.
"I want to
win, deeply--win a championship; it's not any different," Riley said in
early April. "I never thought I would be a lifer. But here I am. So ...
play it out." Then he walked back into the locker room, and to the team he
created, slacks falling just so, with far too much time left before he could go
into the arena and feel the crowd and sharpen himself against 48 minutes of
mayhem. What did Mary say? Get on with it.
For all the news and views of the NBA playoffs, check out the Playoff Blog and
Marty Burns's Fast Breaks at SI.com/nba.