This "Guaran-Sheed" was BogusIn a gritty, hard fought game that lacked artistry but had plenty of dramatic moments, Cleveland defeated Detroit 74-72 to even their second round playoff series at 2-2. Cleveland set a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a playoff game. LeBron James again led the way for the Cavaliers, playing all 48 minutes and producing 22 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots--but he also had eight turnovers while shooting just 8-23 from the field and 5-10 from the free throw line. James topped both teams with seven points and three assists in the fourth quarter as Cleveland outscored Detroit 21-13 but he also had two turnovers and only shot 2-9 from the field and 3-6 from the free throw line in the final stanza. James is averaging 30.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 6.4 apg in his first 10 playoff games; the only player in NBA history to average at least 30-8-6 during a playoff season is Oscar Robertson, who averaged 31.8 ppg, 13.0 rpg and 9.0 apg in 12 games in the 1962-63 postseason.
Anderson Varejao supported James with 10 points, six rebounds and tons of energy; he also took a charge against Chauncey Billups with 29.6 seconds left in the game and the Cavaliers clinging to a 73-72 lead. Rip Hamilton led Detroit with 30 points. Detroit's Rasheed Wallace "guaran-Sheed" victory immediately after Detroit's game three loss and again after practice on Sunday but all that is certain now is that this series--which at first looked like a walkover for the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions--will last at least six games. Wallace came up lame literally and figuratively--he had just seven points on 3-13 shooting from the field and he sprained his right ankle with 9:22 to go in the second quarter. Wallace left the game briefly before returning to action but he was clearly hampered by the injury and Detroit Coach Flip Saunders pulled him from the game for good with over four minutes left in the fourth quarter; in his postgame remarks, Saunders lamented that a healthy Wallace could have been a viable offensive option down the stretch but that in his current physical condition he was unable to fill that role.
So far, James and the Cavaliers have responded well to each new challenge that they have faced--first playoff game, first road playoff game, first series win, first time facing a playoff tested team, two games (and counting) played without the grieving Larry Hughes, whose 20 year old brother died. After the game, James noted that the pressure is on Detroit now to win game five at home, because no one expected the Cavs to extend the series this far. Indeed, the Pistons face several questions now: Can Flip Saunders lead this team as far in the playoffs as Larry Brown did? Will Rasheed Wallace be healthy enough to contribute in game five? Why has Detroit suddenly looked so flat for two games after dominating the first two games? Supposedly Detroit was relaxed and overconfident in game three, but great teams should not have two performances the likes of which the Pistons just had. Logically, the Pistons still have to be favored to win this series because they have two of the last three games at home and are a battle tested team--but there are some cracks showing around the edges of this team and if they mess around and lose game five they could be in serious trouble.
The Cavaliers had 19 turnovers which led to 16 Detroit points and only shot .426 from the field but won anyway because they held Detroit to .333 field goal shooting. After the game, James said, "On the defensive end we got it done...It's not about the offense. It's strictly about the defense." He added, "You have to be mentally focused, especially against a great team like this." James claimed to disregard what critics--including Charles Barkley--say about him and his team but then he rattled off a list of specific aspects of his game that have been critiqued and that he has worked hard to improve: defense, shooting, hitting game winning shots. He certainly seems to be very aware of what is said and written about him--and, like all great players, very eager to prove his critics wrong.
Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's motto remains, "One day, one game at a time." He said that the key for his team is consistency, that the Cavaliers spent a lot of the season riding waves up and down but in the playoffs their defensive effort is becoming more consistent.
Saunders is frustrated that his team is not making shots or closing out games, two areas that have been strengths for Detroit throughout the year. He candidly admitted that his team was tight, saying, "We've played more not to lose than to win," although he later tried to back away from that statement by saying that his team is not tight; anyone who watched the game believed him the first time. Saunders concluded, "We're in a dogfight right now."
Before game three, I asked Saunders how Detroit would avoid a letdown after two easy wins and with Hughes being out indefinitely. He replied, "That's what we're going to find out." Saunders can't like what he found out in two games in Cleveland.
Notes from Courtside:
Prior to the game, Campy Russell and Sedric Toney conducted a Jr. NBA Basketball Clinic at Quicken Loans Arena for over 40 students from the Cleveland area. After the clinic, Russell, Toney and Hall of Famer John Havlicek answered questions from the participants in the same area where the media interviews coaches and players for national TV after the playoff games. One youngster asked the players which current player or players they would most enjoy having as a teammate. Russell chose LeBron James because "he understands the game, is unselfish and is willing to share the ball." Toney selected Jason Kidd because he cares only about winning, not his personal statistics, and James because "although he is only 21 he understands what it takes to win." Havlicek chose Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, "because they move the ball and push it. I never wanted to handle the ball. I wanted to catch the ball and either shoot it or get rid of it." Havlicek singled out a third player for praise: "The guy who I think is maybe the best player in the league because of his attitude and his personality and his demeanor to be a winner is Tim Duncan."
After a 15 minute question and answer session, Havlicek, Russell and Toney autographed t-shirts for each participant and answered some more questions one-on-one. Before the young players left, Russell offered the group a final piece of advice: work on your off hand, because being able to dribble, pass and shoot with either hand is very important.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:14 AM