The stage was set
Expectations were high
The bar was raised
For the final clash
For this was the finals
Of the hoops extravaganza
Where dreams became reality
And hopes were dashed to earth
The NBA Finals had arrived
As the Houston Spacewalkers team walked into the arena for what would be the biggest battle of their lives, slowly moving past the hordes of media and heckling fans. The delinquent fans screamed insults at Lokesh, Keon, Danny, and others and talked trash. Deftly ignoring them, the team pushed its way into the arena.
This was it.
“Remember, guys,” said Lokesh to his team. “We’ve fought tooth and nail to get here. We may have lost to Baltimore every time before this, but it ends now!”
“One! Two! Three!” called Danny Reynolds.
“END THE CURSE!” screamed the team.
Lokesh excused himself to wash his face and prepare for the biggest series he would ever play. But, he noticed that someone was waiting for him in the bathroom. Someone familiar.
“Josh Okongo,” said Lokesh. “Hello, again.”
Josh sneered. “So, you get to the finals. You reach the finals riding on the backs of your role players. Then, you have the audacity to think that you have a chance in the finals. Relying on your role players, what a shame!”
“How is that a shame?” asked Lokesh.
“They’re role players for a reason, kid. They’ll never be as good as franchise level players like you and me! You relied on a bunch of benchwarmers to reach the finals? Where’s your pride as a franchise player?”
Lokesh laughed. “Is that what you think of your role players? I was lucky to have role players like them, when all else had failed! I’m honored to be their teammate! Basketball is a team sport, and to win, I need quality role players like them.”
He walked out, only stopping to share some parting words.
“Always respect every member on your team, man! Or you’ll go down!”
Lokesh knew how much was riding on this finals. He knew the amount of pressure on him as the franchise player and on his teammates and role players. But he’d trained his whole life waiting for this.
His life’s work was riding on this.
His future with Neha was riding on this.
He validating the support of everyone who’d helped him was riding on this.
Dan’s entire legacy was riding on this.
Dan’s relationship with his wife Eva and his kids was riding on this.
Proving the fact that Keon had matured as a man was riding on this.
Getting over everything that Kobayashi, Odai, Marcello Rodriguez, and Steven Walker had been through was riding on this.
And Lokesh would see it to its bitter end.
They walked onto the court to face Baltimore and heard the boos and jeers from the crowd. But, they ignored them and shook hands.
Deandre Washington and Keon Jordan Jr jumped up for the opening tip, and the game was underway.
Josh Okongo received a pass and stared at Lokesh. Using his strength and speed, he tried to bully his way past the defender. It was then that he noticed how much taller and physically stronger Lokesh had grown. Lokesh resisted and pushed Josh into taking a poorly-shot three pointer.
The ball bounced off the rim. Underneath, Keon was having a match of physical strength and positional dominance. Deandre used his massive body and inhuman strength to try to push Keon away, but was alarmed to find the young center pushing back with equal force. Keon had really grown stronger. He grabbed the rebound and passed to Odai, who ran at the opposite basket, Keon’s nemesis Jared McRod chasing after him. Odai’s long stride helped him reach the basket and dunk the ball ahead of Jared.
Keon had finally admitted he was no match for Jared McRod, and had taken over the Deandre Washington assignment, leaving Jared to Odai.
Petar Varga tried shooting a three, but was blocked by Danny Reynolds. Shocked by Dan’s newfound defense, he failed to retrieve the ball. Kobayashi caught the ball, crossed over Stanley Smith so hard that he lost balance, and hit a three pointer in his face.
The crowd was stunned.
This was absolutely anomalous.
Houston led the game 36-15 at the end of the first.
Deandre Washington growled as he switched on to Lokesh. He went at the young forward, trying to use his strength to bully the ball out of his grasp. But Lokesh pushed back equally hard. He then bumped into Deandre and shot a mid-range shot which went in.
“Foul!” yelled the referee. “Baltimore! Number 72! Basket counts! One free throw!”
Lokesh made the free throw easily.
Deandre was now seething with rage. In his fury, he lost all sense of reason. He found Lokesh guarding him instead of Keon. Though, much to his surprise, Lokesh was slightly stronger than Keon, he lacked the height required to compete with him. Deandre took full advantage of this, spinning around powerfully and dunking over Lokesh. The dunk was so powerful that Lokesh was thrown to the ground.
“Don’t get overconfident, kid,” he told Lokesh, who was writhing in pain again. “You’re living in some fantasy where you think you can score over anyone and guard anyone! Well, welcome to reality!”
He had pulled the entire rim, backboard, and goalpost down onto Lokesh’s leg.
Such was the inhuman strength of Deandre Washington.
Medics confirmed that Lokesh would be out for a few games because his leg was not badly injured, but still damaged enough to keep him out for a few days.
Baltimore ran away with game 1 and game 2.
And despite Houston’s best efforts, they destroyed them in game three as well.
They were now one win away from an NBA championship.
Houston was down 0-3 in the series.
No team had ever come out of that anymore.
Steven Walker thought of a quick plan to cheer his dejected, depressed team up. He let them skip practice for a day and took them on a fun trip to the beach, NASA Space Center, and a few eateries.
He was trying to take their minds off the immense pressure of being one loss away from losing the finals.
After their day out, the team was more excited than ever to go and win.
But their best news yet was this.
Lokesh would be back for the next game.
With the re-addition of their franchise player, the team set off again in pursuit of Houston’s first NBA championship.
The 0-3 deficit suddenly didn’t worry them at all.