Instant Classic: LeBron's 48 Points Lift Cavs to Thrilling Double Overtime WinLeBron James had the signature performance of his young and already impressive playoff career, scoring a franchise playoff-record 48 points to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 109-107 double overtime win versus the Detroit Pistons. He tied Allen Iverson and Jerry West for the third most points scored in a road game in the Conference Finals or NBA Finals (Elgin Baylor holds that mark with 61 points, while Chamberlain ranks second with 50 points). James scored the Cavaliers' last 25 points--and 29 of their final 30--in an amazing 16 minute stretch; he shot 11-14 from the field and 5-9 from the free throw line during that period. He scored all 18 of Cleveland's points in the two overtimes, capped off by the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining. James also had a game-high seven assists and tied for the game-high with nine rebounds while shooting 18-33 from the field and 10-14 from the free throw line. He committed just two turnovers in 50 minutes of action. Only two other Cavaliers scored in double figures, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (16 points) and Daniel Gibson (11 points), both of whom fouled out. Larry Hughes started despite his foot injury and provided a boost with nine points in 29 minutes, including a team-high eight first quarter points. That kind of contribution is important because it means that James can save some energy for crunch time instead of having to do so much that he has nothing left in the tank late in the game; it was also significant that the Cavaliers were able to rest James for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter and actually go from being tied at 70 to being up 75-74. Superstars don't always need a lot of help to win a game; just being able to rest briefly can provide enough of a recharge for them to do incredible things. For example, contrast what the Cavaliers did in this game while James sat to what the Lakers did in the first round when Kobe Bryant was not on the court.
Each Detroit starter scored in double figures and three of them had at least 20 points apiece but the Pistons could neither stop James nor get the ball out of his hands during the most crucial phase of the game. Richard Hamilton led the Pistons with 26 points and five assists and Chauncey Billups had his best all around game of the series, contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists while only having one turnover in 53 minutes. Chris Webber also had his best game of the series, scoring 20 points on 9-13 shooting.
The biggest story of the night after James' amazing performance is the type two flagrant foul committed by Antonio McDyess on Anderson Varejao with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Pistons leading 28-22. Type two flagrant fouls carry an automatic ejection and considering the amount of contact to the head/neck area that occurred on the play it is certainly possible that McDyess will be suspended for Game Six. James received a technical foul on the play for his demonstrative reaction after Varejao went down. It is very significant to note that James, unlike Carmelo Anthony versus the New York Knicks in December, did not throw a punch and that not one player from either team left the bench area, proving that it is indeed possible even in an emotional situation to not completely lose one's mind. James delivered some choice words to McDyess but did not do anything that could cost his team his services.
Detroit led for most of the first half, including a 37-29 advantage with 8:00 remaining in the second quarter. That is the biggest lead that the Pistons have enjoyed at any point in the first five games of this series, an indication of how close this series has been, which surely must come as a surprise to people who assumed that the Pistons would easily beat the Cavaliers. The reality, as TNT's Charles Barkley said before Game Five, is that Cleveland outplayed Detroit in the first four games and could very well have swept the Pistons, though he later softened his stance by adding that the margins have been so small that you could also make the case that Detroit could have won the first four games, too. Barkley got it right the first time: Detroit is supposed to be the class of the Eastern Conference but what we have seen during the first five games is that the Pistons cannot simply turn it on and win versus Cleveland the way that they did against Orlando and Chicago. Cleveland has the best player on either team and is an excellent defensive squad. The Pistons have no answer for what Cleveland is doing or they would have shown it by now; each game has followed the same pattern, with James having the ball in his hands at the end with a chance to win. Detroit is not able to gain separation early in the game and is reduced to hoping and praying at the end of the game that James does not do something great.
Cleveland cut Detroit's lead to 52-51 by halftime. During the first half, TNT's Craig Sager noted that the Cavaliers planned to change their halftime routine in an attempt to prevent the third quarter doldrums that have plagued them throughout the series. He said that the team's video coordinators were putting together clips of key first half plays that the coaching staff would review while the players had a brief players only meeting. Then the coaches would present to the players what they found on the video, in essence turning the halftime into an accelerated pregame meeting. Despite a rough stretch early in the quarter, Cleveland outscored Detroit 19-18 in the third period, making the score 70-70 with 12 minutes left in regulation.
Ilgauskas' layup at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter put Cleveland ahead 79-76. That was the last field goal made by a Cavalier other than James. Detroit promptly went on a 12-2 run to seemingly take control of the game with just 3:15 left. James' layup cut the margin to 88-83, though he missed a free throw to complete the three point play. Cleveland got a stop and then Drew Gooden split a pair of free throws with 2:49 remaining. That was the last point scored by a Cavalier other than James. The only points scored by either team in the next 2:18 were a three pointer and a dunk by James, putting Cleveland ahead 89-88. Billups then nailed a cold-blooded three pointer but James tied the game with another dunk. Billups missed a three pointer to end regulation.
Cleveland took a 100-96 lead in the first overtime but Wallace and Billups each made a pair of free throws in the last :30 to tie the game. TNT's Doug Collins pointed out that Cleveland made some strategic mistakes near the end of the period, the main one being that the Cavaliers ran out of timeouts (a problem that also happened in Games One and Two). That meant that after Billups' free throws they could not call a timeout and advance the ball and could only inbound the ball and throw a desperation heave at the hoop.
James opened the second overtime by draining a fadeaway jumper but Webber's three point play at the 1:28 mark not only fouled out Ilgauskas but also gave the Pistons a 107-104 lead. James calmly responded with a three pointer on the next possession. "This is Jordanesque," said TNT's Steve Kerr, who would certainly know since he played alongside Michael Jordan on three championship teams. When Wallace missed a turnaround jump shot with :13 remaining, Collins said, "We've gone from having a winner in this game to having a survivor." Neither team scored for over a minute until James won the game by driving through the Pistons' defense to score a layup with :02 left.
***Before the game, TNT's Reggie Miller made the interesting point that James' much criticized decision to pass to Donyell Marshall at the end of Game One had a positive effect even though Cleveland lost that game: Miller believes that it infused the other Cleveland players with confidence because James showed that he trusts them and thinks that they can help to beat Detroit. Barkley and Kenny Smith reiterated that they never meant to suggest that passing the ball is bad but rather that James should not have passed on that particular occasion because he had a clear lane to score himself. James certainly availed himself of such opportunities many times late in Game Five, providing several eye-popping dunks plus the game-winning layup.
***After the game, the Inside the NBA studio crew heatedly debated Detroit's late game defensive strategy (or lack thereof) versus James. Barkley and Smith argued that you simply cannot let one player score 25 straight points and said that Detroit should have double-teamed him before he went into his move, forcing James to pass. Miller said that it was a situation of "good defense, better offense" and that there was nothing that Detroit could have done. Barkley and Smith cited the numerous dunks and inside points that James scored as proof that Detroit's double-teams either never arrived or came too late, while Miller countered that James also made fadeaway jump shots. Miller asked why they were criticizing James for shooting when they previously said that he should shoot more but they answered that they were not criticizing James for shooting but rather they were criticizing Detroit for not forcing him to pass the ball.
***As for the McDyess foul on Varejao, during the telecast Kerr immediately said that he thought that it should have been a type one flagrant foul, not a type two, and that McDyess should not have been ejected. After the game, Miller said that he thought that McDyess would be suspended but Barkley said that McDyess is a good guy who does not have a reputation of making such plays and that this will enable him to avoid suspension. Barkley added that since McDyess missed virtually the entire game he has, in essence, already served a suspension.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:34 AM