Marquise Hill: 1982-2007 It’s a somber Memorial Day across the NFL and Patriot-nation. Marquise Hill, a third-year defensive end from LSU, drowned Sunday night on Lake Pontchartrain after a jet ski accident. Hill was a second-round pick of the Patriots in the 2004 draft, and was a rookie on the team that won its third Super Bowl in four years. He only played in a handful of games throughout his brief NFL career, but that was more of a testament to the depth and quality of New England’s defensive line. I don’t have any specific memories of him on or off the field but I know one thing: Marquise Hill was a Patriot for a reason. He was a Patriot because he was a hard worker and a good teammate. He was a Patriot because he had a winner’s mentality and a desire to become better. Marquise Hill was a man in a locker room where each man was valued as a necessary part of a greater entity. So even if we, as fans, were not aware of his impact, we need not look any further than the uniform he donned. Marquise Hill lived as a Patriot, and will be remembered as a Patriot.
(Note: Subsequent to publishing this on Monday I have done some reading about Hill and discovered he did a great deal of work helping his brethren in New Orleans rebuild their homes and city post-Katrina. This comes as no surprise but reinforces what a truly good man he was. He didn’t need camera crews and Patriots’ representatives documenting his deeds; he just did them because he was a caring and admirable individual. Marquise Hill will be missed by many.)
Now to segway into some playoff basketball…
Cavs-Pistons It’s evident that the Cavs could very well be up 3-0 on the Pistons. After Lebron’s questionable pass in Game 1 and mauling by Rip Hamilton in Game 2 resulted in consecutive 79-76 losses, King James needed to man up in Game 3. He rose to the occasion after proclaiming Game 3 the biggest of his life, scoring 32 points to go along with nine rebounds and nine assists. He also hit the two biggest shots of the game in crunch time. Most importantly, he finally had the look of a guy determined to find a way to win. My question is what took so long? Both games in Detroit were there for the taking. They were games hanging in the balance, waiting for the best player on the floor to take over and exert his will. Lebron was that player, except he didn’t show it.
Of course the Pistons are a championship team who know how to grind down opponents and finish games. But in nail biting postseason games the best player on the court should be able to dominate the last couple of minutes by himself. That’s how Dwyane Wade won a championship last spring; that’s how Michael Jordan won six titles in six tries in the mid-nineties. Maybe Lebron isn’t ready yet, maybe he’s too enamored with becoming a “global icon” and not the next great champion. Maybe he has to learn how to compose himself at the free throw line in the final minutes of huge games. Maybe he secretly knows the supporting cast around him is only sufficient enough to win ten or eleven playoff games, and not sixteen. Or maybe the stage is still too grand for him.
No matter what, the fact is that he is the best player in this series and has had the ball in his hands with chances to win each of the three games, with one victory to show for it. Detroit may well win the next two games in convincing fashion, and there will only be so much we can put on Lebron’s shoulders because the Pistons are the handily better team. But if the next two games play out like the first two did, we’ll definitely have learned more about Lebron than we would have if the Cavs drop Game 4 and Game 5 by double digits.
Spurs-Jazz The Jazz are playing with house money. The bad news is the money is only good in their house. The good news is Game 4 is in Salt Lake City. The Jazz are a perfect 7-0 at the Delta Center (actually it’s Energy Solutions Arena, but it was the Delta Center in the old days of Stockton/Malone and has been resuscitated this spring) this postseason. The Spurs have never won a playoff game in Utah in nine tries. And the fans there know it. They also know they are one of the rare crowds that can pick its team up and carry them by their jersey-collars. In the Stockton/Malone/Delta Center heyday the building rocked so loudly that it was difficult to be in the Salt Lake valley without hearing the buzz of the stadium. That familiar roar is back and driving the young-Jazz. A win tonight would guarantee one more game in the house that the pick and roll built. It would also send a clear message to the veteran-Spurs that while it’s not the Mailman delivering them playoff losses anymore, there is a kid named Deron Williams who will be postmarking big games for years to come.