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NBA Eastern Conf. Final Game 5: We Are All Witnesses To LeBron

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When it comes to watching games with the intent of writing about them later, not all contests are created equal. Sometimes I’m scrambling to remember what I saw throughout the game, because rather than making notes during timeouts I chose to grab additional refreshment. I was prepared tonight though. Noting specific instances where Richard Hamilton made Sasha Pavlovic look silly, of which there were many. Carefully tracking how the foul situation was piling up on Cleveland all game, since I had a hunch that Cleveland would be in foul trouble late. They were. But now that it’s over, I can probably crinkle up the vast majority of these notes and just talk about one thing.

That one thing, of course is LeBron James.

The final result of Thursday night’s Game 5 between the Pistons and Cavaliers was a 109-107 win in double overtime for Cleveland, putting them up in the series three games to two. At one point, Cleveland had scored 84 points. From that point onward, no other Cavalier but LeBron James scored. No baskets. No free throws. LeBron James scored the last 25 points for Cleveland, coming to a total of 48. No one else wearing red scored in either of the two overtime periods but James.

And, as a quick tour through SportsCenter over the next 18 hours will reveal, not only did James score, but he scored in some of the most amazing ways a player could have. Not one, two, but three thunderous dunks; but the most impressive part was how, after having played over 45 minutes of basketball, James continued to hit step-back jumper after step-back jumper.

Detroit would often send two or even three guys to defend him, and James simply elevated over all of them to get the bucket in a clear line of sight, then let ‘em fly. And not over some poor 5’9″ sacrificial lamb. Tayshaun Prince is one of the longest forwards in the league. LeBron still got over top of him. And not in the sixth game of the season against the Celtics. No, this was in two successive overtime periods of a Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals against what is widely considered one of the best defensive squads in recent NBA memory.

Tonight is somewhat special for me. You always hear of people talking about where they were when certain sports landmarks occur. I was able to gloat about having actually stayed up to finish off Boise State’s upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl this past January. I remember Tom Brady’s first late game drive to beat the Rams and bring the Patriots their first and most unlikely championship. I recall nearly spitting Coke up after watching Derek Fisher hit his famous shot with 0.4 seconds left to beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of their series with the Lakers three years ago.

No matter what happens from here on out, this will be considered a performance for the ages. Every time LeBron went up for yet another difficult jumper, I knew it’d be the one he finally missed. He never did.

There was more to this crazy game than just LeBron’s heroics. Billups warrants some discussion, and both coaches made some truly curious errors. But tonight, we are all, plain and simple, witnesses. LeBron has faced nothing but pressure in this entire series, and tonight on another team’s floor he erupts for a performance like this. There’s no better way for me to articulate it. Tonight was one of the best NBA playoff performances ever, and only ESPN Classic will be able to do it justice.

One thing before I let you run off to watch the encore showing, though. There must be something said about the ejection of Antonio McDyess late in the first quarter. McDyess laid out Anderson Varejao with the same clothesline type hit that usually goes relatively unpunished. Had he hit Varejao in the chest, as is usually what happens, he would have been fine. It was a direct hit to the face though, and with that in the equation he just had to be tossed from the game. It will be very, very disappointing if the league chooses to hand out yet another frivolous suspension over this one.

There are two days before Game 6 back in Cleveland, and at some point the other aspects of this game need to be analyzed. Mike Brown’s clock management deserves some criticism, and as amazing as James was, there was a reason why he had to take this game on his back and allow the rest of his team to become spectators. Detroit’s Flip Saunders is hardly free of blame: he made some very perplexing decisions with when to sub in different players on Detroit’s front line. Sasha Pavlovic played his worst game of the series thus far. And, of course, there is the evolving story of Billups’ less-than inspiring-play in this series. But I’ve got two days to cover it. And I will. Tonight, I am content to be a witness.

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About Jared Wright

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Much more detailed than what I tried to write about the game:

    “Jesus fucking Christ in a mason jar. LeBron James.”

    Then I got stuck.

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    Ha. I envy your concise but yet accurate description of this particular game. Thanks for the quick turnaround on this one; maybe someone actually WILL read it in time to watch the replay at 3 AM or so.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “Jesus fucking Christ in a mason jar. LeBron James.”

    Yeah, that’s about all I’ve got, too… :-/

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Well, as a Pistons fan, I will try to put a positive spin on this one, as best I can.

    #1 – If LeBron isn’t superhuman in this one, Detroit wins.

    #2 – The Pistons lost games 3, 4, & 5 against this team last year, and they still beat them in 7.

    #3 – Chris Webber finally looked like a non-deceased NBA player. And both Billups and Hamilton had solid games. So, I guess that bodes well for Game Six, right?

    #4 – The Pistons had the best road record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. It was just as good as their road record. They also have more experience than the Cavs, having been to the Eastern Conference Finals 5 years in a row.

    #5 – McDyess (who I like to call “McDuck”) should simply clothesline LeBron instead early in Game Six, and all will be well for the Pistons…

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “The Pistons had the best road record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. It was just as good as their road record,”

    Should be:

    “The Pistons had the best road record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. It was just as good as their HOME record.”

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    It’s funny, see. I think we can agree that LeBron James is likely the most hyped basketball player to ever come out of high school. And for the first time, he’s doing just what people said he’d do back in high school. That kind of expected brilliance was never heaped on other players to this degree. Everyone else has taken some time to be discovered for the superstars they really, really would be. Jordan, for instance. People knew he’d be great, and now, I’m not old enough to really remember, but I don’t think people really said he’d be the pinnacle of basketball greatness like he ended up being, even when he was at North Carolina. He still managed to at the end of the day exceed what the original expectations for him were.

    But with LeBron, he’s really only capable of meeting the expectations people had for him when he started. He could end up the very best in the game, and a select group will still say, “Oh, I knew you’d get there all along.”

    And the crazy part is that, barring a catastrophic injury, he just might end up doing that. He might end up one of the best to ever play the game and will have reached those expectations that really noone should have to even try reaching.

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    The Pistons:

    1. Billups needs to distribute more. He played better tonight than he has so far, but he’s still the reason the Pistons offense is sputtering at the most inopportune times. Wallace looked shut out of the offense the entire night, and while part of that is that Rasheed needs to be more aggressive in demanding the ball and making himself a factor, the other part is that Billups took some real curious shots. A couple times he just chucked up a three off the dribble. That kind of shot selection is not in the Pistons’ best interest, but noone will say that since it was one of those silly shots that got the Pistons into OT.

    2. One of the Pistons’ go to play is having Hamilton run a sort of curl. He beats Sasha Pavlovic with this move EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yet they never went to it in any of those must score situations. I was surprised by this.

    3. I don’t get why LeBron was allowed to do the things he did late in the game. Yes, they attacked him defensively and he made some wicked plays. But after he scored about 16 or 18 straight, I would have just collapsed at least four guys on him and simply make it absolutely impossible for him to get a look at the basket. I mean, at least for novelty’s sake, don’t just keep letting him pop jumpers in the same guys’ grills over and over again! Or do that little backup move and then blow into the lane when the defenders move outwards so they don’t foul the jump shooter.

    4. I’m expecting to here a lot of grumbling about McDyess’s hit getting called a flagrant 2. I think it was the right call, (James getting a technical was also appropriate there), so I agree with him getting tossed. AT the same time, I’m relatively confident that McDyess would have probably meant the Pistons pulling it out. Having an extra offensive presence in the paint that can keep points coming in when Wallace and Webber go cold in the 3rd would have probably done wonders.

    5. Similar to the above remark about Hamilton owning Pavlovic, the Pistons D also had one set they were very successful with consistently all game long. It was that half court press that gave way to the zone, and Cleveland never really figured it out, IMHO. Yet I only recall Detroit running it very occasionally late in the game. I was trying to get my jaw up off the floor due to LeBron so might have just missed them, but I definitely came away thinking they should have relied on it more.

    Dat’s all I got now, and most of it probably makes no sense. ’tis far past my bedtime, and I made up for skipping out on all the refreshments to write game notes after the game was over, so my head be fuzzy now. Maybe I can go watch the replay of this whole thing…

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    And for the sake of statistical completeness, Detroit’s road record in the regular season was in fact one game better than their home record: 27-14 to 26-15. Buuuuuut. You’re now 4-3 on the road in the conference finals, and there’s only one home playoff loss all by its lonesome for the Cavs so far this year.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    We Are All Witnesses To Detroit’s Terrible Defense.

    James made some great shots, no doubt, but the operative word is “some.” How about getting out of that ineffective zone and getting the ball out of his hands before he’s driving to the hoop.

    Shit, Lambeer and Mahorn would have knocked him on his ass after the first time he did that. I always heard no lay-ups in the playoffs. I guarantee San Antonio would not have allowed that to happen.

    James has to be happy that Oden and Durant are heading out west because he has no competition in the east other than Wayne, if he can return to form.

    Basketball needs to add a flop penalty like hockey. Vlade Divac thinks Varejao overdoes it.

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    Detroit definitely made a blunder or seven that allowed James’ crazy night to continue. He definitely deserves major props for some of those though.

    Wade and Bryant, too, assuming L.A. does in fact trade him. I doubt they trade him to anyone in the West, unless the Mavs or Suns make a disgusting offer they can’t refuse. Most likely spot is Chicago, and you can’t disqualify New York, as dumb a move it’d be for them. Atlanta and Boston possibly, but I don’t know if Kobe’d really wave his no trade claus for either of those.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Basketball needs to add a flop penalty like hockey.”

    Not a bad idea, now that players from soccer countries in the NBA (Ginobili, Varejao) is now at a nonzero value.

  • http://silverstarhawk.livejournal.com Jared Wright

    I dunno, a penalty just brings more attention to the refs. I think they should just try better to identify when a guy is flopping and just not give them the call. Everyone else watching the game can tell when some guy flops out of his boots, so the refs standing five feet away should be able to. I did see them decline to call a few of Varejao’s flops in Game 5, so that was encouraging. I’m guessing all the attention paid to it during this postseason will mean a bit more vigilence on flopping next year.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “you can’t disqualify New York, as dumb a move it’d be for them.”

    You definitely can’t disqualify New York, since über-moron Isiah Thomas is the head coach and president of basketball operations for the Knicks…