Whether it’s fair or not, you have to feel for King James at the moment. He passed out of a double team to a shooter with a ridiculously wide open look at a three pointer, the epitome of playing team-oriented basketball. Then that teammate missed the shot, and Cleveland’s down 1-0 to the Detroit Pistons, having lost 79-76. And Donyell Marshall, the shooter in question, is still only feeling a fraction of the backlash around that play. The rest is going to the guy who made a pretty assist that, had the shot gone in, would have netted his team a very likely win on the opponent’s court and a triple double to make the folks on Sportcenter giddy.
But it is fair, and I now am starting to wonder if maybe those saying James doesn’t have the necessary killer instinct to reach his potential haven’t stumbled upon something. James in general was far too timid all night, and his stat line, as close to a triple double as it might be, shows it. 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. And only three shots taken in the fourth quarter. It’s not a suggestion to go Tracy McGrady on us and chuck up just about everything. But if Cleveland wants any chance in this series, James is going to have to stop shying away from taking the basketball in his hands and doing something with it that will directly translate to offensive points.
Dishing off to teammates is great and should be encouraged throughout the game. But when it’s crunch time, there’s a reason why LeBron is the superstar and Donyell Marshall is not. It’s hard to criticize LeBron, since passing out of a double team to an open shooter is good basketball smarts. But Marshall had made one shot all night. LeBron gets all the attention he gets because he’s better than his Cavalier cohorts. Double team be damned, in that position LeBron needs to attack the rim and try for that layup, just like he should have been doing all night long with that football player-like build he has.
The chances of success in either the form of a whistle or a made basket are better than relying on a reserve who has in a split second been asked to take the hardest shot of the game, as open as he was. Perhaps LeBron is too humble to even himself realize that he’s better than everyone on his team and possibly everyone on the floor.
The sad part about all this for Cavs fans is that Cleveland probably won’t find Detroit playing this poorly in game two. A golden opportunity knocked, and Cleveland could have had home court advantage just like that. Tayshaun Prince probably won’t go 1-for-11 again, and Billups was almost nonexistent through three quarters. Whether or not Detroit is focused or not isn’t all that relevant. There is no way Cleveland shoots 37% from the floor and 10% from behind the arc, and is still in it at the end of another one.
Detroit’s offensive woes throughout the first three quarters were hysterical. For many, the frustration lasted the entire game, and only Richard Hamilton’s 24 points kept Detroit within striking distance. The fourth quarter duties were handled by Billups, who unlike James did not shy away from the big shot and hit three huge 3-pointers in the final period. Rasheed Wallace also played well down the stretch, going 4-of-5 from the floor. It should be mentioned that throughout the game he had 7 blocks to at least keep Detroit close through defense. But up until that point, no one for Detroit could get hot enough to provide the offensive spark that would have probably put the Cavs in a perpetual state of being 7-10 points back.
Figuring out where to go from here in the series is tricky. On the one hand, Cleveland might just have missed its best chance to take quick control of the proceedings. By contrast, Detroit played far from the basketball they as a unit are capable of playing, and one has to wonder just when their much-discussed switch is going to get turned on. While we can say Detroit played horribly, Cleveland is equipped for a far better performance also. Much as Cleveland can’t count on Billups having 3 points going into the fourth quarter, Detroit can’t count on Cleveland’s shooting to get much worse.
Cleveland did do an excellent job with rebounding, making up for their poor field goal percentage by getting 17 second chance points off offensive rebounds. Ilgauskas also played a fantastic game, and his 22 points and 13 rebounds went horribly wasted. The truth is that Cleveland missed all the big shots that Wallace and Billups made when it was down to every possession counting. Perhaps they missed them because the wrong people were taking them. Only #23 (James) can fix that. The other #23 would have, and we all know how much the sports world likes that particular comparison.