There are plenty of witty introductions that would be good places to start the recap of tonight's 79-76 win by the Detroit Pistons over the Cleveland Cavaliers to grab a 2-0 series lead. And no, there's no typo. This was another 79-76 win, although its closing moments played out in similar fashion. But I know full well that I can't start with anything but the last possession for Cleveland.
Cleveland inbounded with essentially a 24-second shot clock's worth of time left in the game, down by two. This time though, LeBron James took the shot despite being closely guarded by Detroit's Richard Hamilton. There was contact, and had the exchange been with 10 minutes left in the third quarter of a February regular season game, a whistle would have likely sounded. With that little time left in a playoff game, most officials try to let the players do the playing. And while Cleveland fans have to be upset that James didn't get the call that superstars are supposed to get there, the zebras had allowed the physicality all game, particularly in the second half. Perhaps it wasn't living by the letter of the law as concerns what is and is not a foul, but it was consistent with what had been called so far in the game. That's better than what NBA fans usually get from officials, so I'm putting that little squabble to bed right now.
If Cleveland wants to blame someone for their loss, they should blame the team that let a 12-point lead evaporate throughout the third quarter. They should blame the team that scored only 4 points for the first 9 minutes of that same third quarter. They should blame Drew Gooden (a single rebound all game), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (1-of-6 from the floor), and especially Larry Hughes (2-of-9 from the floor and a willingness to settle for jumpers) for their poor performances. Fans and analysts alike were fairly likeminded at the series' beginning about how James would probably get his, and that Detroit was going to try and force other players to beat them. Detroit has, and the other players have not responded as appropriate in the same game. The only other Cleveland starter to play respectably tonight was Sasha Pavlovic, who shot the ball well (7-of10 for 14) and at least gave LeBron more room to work offensively.
It was mostly in the third quarter where Cleveland looked like a team caught in the headlights. The Pistons played textbook Detroit basketball, accumulating only two turnovers the entire period while chipping away at Cleveland’s 50-38 halftime lead. Billups made seemingly every shot he took, and Rasheed Wallace showed signs of playing like a man possessed.
Those signs came to fruition in the fourth quarter. Detroit as a whole played with more carelessness than they had in the quarter prior. Billups, who made his first four shots, ended up 4-of-7, and Jason Maxiell, who had been a huge lift for Detroit off the bench, began to get lax with his fundamentals around the basket. But Wallace's 10 points in the final period (he had 16 total) and constant defensive hustle held off Cleveland's desperate attempts to reclaim their halftime lead before time ran out.
From here the series moves to Cleveland for games three and four, and the Cavs are going home down 0-2 and knowing that six points is all the difference between them and the Pistons. Sure, Detroit has played James very well. His performance tonight (7-of-19, 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists) was probably lesser than his game one showing. But Cleveland can take some encouragement from the fact that in the first two games they've proven themselves just as capable as Detroit, especially defensively. The Pistons are only winning by gutting it out in the last few possessions and making the plays that just aren't working for Cleveland on the other end of the court. Some may call it bad luck. I myself attribute it to Detroit's experience in crunch time.
Whatever's behind those six points' difference, Cleveland has until Game Three to figure out how to make them up. Two victories on their home court are a possibility, and if that happens, this series could still go an entertaining six or seven games. The urgency has to be there though, as a 0-3 deficit will be as insurmountable for Cleveland as it was for Chicago last round, and Detroit is the only team in the conference with a better road record at 27-14 than their 26-15 mark at The Palace. The Cavs are not yet demoted to being a formality for two more games like the Jazz are out west, but the pressure is squarely on them to turn their good effort in the first two games into a W for Game Three. If they don’t, James’ exit from the playoffs at Detroit’s hands won’t be nearly as dramatic as it was last year.Powered by Sidelines