Watching Game 2 last night, it struck me. The nastiness that is the NBA Eastern Conference Finals is back. The hacking, the shoves, the hard fouls, all on display. Classic Eastern Conference defense punctuated by equal displays of strength and desperation. The Detroit Pistons, the Miami Heat. Both playing as much to win, as not to lose. The post game volleys were weak, but landed on target just the same. Ben Wallace on the challenge of playing Shaq (at both ends): "You know, Shaq presents a lot of different challenges. I got a busted lip, a black eye, but I'm just about going out there, trying to do what I can to help the team win, try and stay in front of him, make him shoot over the top and not allow him to get too many dunks." Dwyane Wade on the amount of respect the Pistons give the Heat: "No. We don't get credit. They was tired. That's what y'all said. That's why we won the first game." Wade again on the amount of aggressiveness the Pistons are showing him: "When we come up the court and Rip doing that bumping stuff, that's the only thing I seen. Maybe I'll try it and see if I can get away with it. Besides that, it was a normal game." This series is only two games old, and we've seen a flagrant on James Posey (rescinded but no less malicious), physical bumping and hard fouls. It warms the heart of a Bad Boy fan to know that the playoffs have truly arrived. The old cliche of a series not starting until someone loses a home game was fulfilled in Game 1. The post game hugs and cell phone ringtone swapping sessions are nothing more than memories of lesser players from series now booked. Sure the interview venom has not reached the fever pitch of the Pistons-Celtics or Pistons-Bulls, but the underlying dislike these two teams have for each other is beginning to take on momentum. The type of fuel that burns brightest in the 4th quarter of a game 7. Each team has much to lose in this series. Pat Riley's reputation hangs on the success of this series after pushing the previous coach out, and overhauling a proven roster that was less than 2 minutes away from a Finals appearance. Not to mention that Pat has not won a title since 1988. Since that time, he's lost in the Finals (LAL 1989, NYK 1994) and the Eastern Conference Finals (NYK 1993, MIA 1997) twice each. In the post-Laker losses Pat brought the same plodding, "anti-Showtime" half court attack featuring a variety of role players and aging stars surrounding a dominant center (Ewing, Mourning). Heavy on bruising play and defense but ultimately lacking the late game playmaker to close the deal. Consider that "Riles" has won 697 (regular season) games versus 419 losses since his last title 17 years ago, and yet is only 68-62 in the playoffs during that time. A failure this year, and the monomaniacal career coach who gazed longingly upon the sideline from his management position in 2004 and 2005 will have no honorable path but to retire. A Finals victory would assure his place alongside the Red Auerbachs and Phil Jacksons of NBA history. It's an all or nothing proposition now that Pat has pushed every last chip to the center of the table. Shaquille O'Neal also has a lot to lose. Whispers in the print media and on talk radio suggest that a failure to win a title in Miami lends credence to the fact that Kobe was instrumental in the Lakers' recent championships, diminishing the assumed dominance of the Big Diesel. Of course, let's not forget Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, two former stars now playing into the twilight of their careers, searching for redemption by way of a title. Payton for his reputation as a team killer, and Mourning for abandoning the Nets and failing to report to the Toronto Raptors, moves which prompted the NBA to adopt tough legislation to prevent such transgressions in the new Collective Bargaining agreement. The Pistons are not immune to the reprecussions losing. A second post-season failure with the same core, under two different coaches will test the acumen of Joe Dumars, who despite being an extremely patient and deliberate General Manager, would be forced to alter a roster that has yielded diminishing returns. Flip Saunders, a career playoff loser with the soft excuse of having lesser talent can claim no such out this year. Equipped with the best team in the league, and a starting lineup consisting of four All-Stars, Flip is under a microscope that could bury him. With each twitch, collar jerk and facial tick testament to the pressure he must feel. It's time for the warriors to fulfill their destinies in a battle to the death. No room for error. No second chances. Every inch fought for with blood and sweat. We wouldn't want it any other way. There is too much to lose.