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Friday, June 01, 2007

Instant Classic: LeBron's 48 Points Lift Cavs to Thrilling Double Overtime Win

LeBron 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.

************
Notes:

***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

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Friday, June 01, 2007 9:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David --

Just a word of thanks for your smart, to-the-point game summaries and analyses. They consistently outclass the newspaper accounts of the games, and are a good example of how independent sports journalism on the Web has just been kicking the ass of print journalism and the stuff (I'll avoid profanity) being put out by ESPN (Hollinger aside).

I found your blog through a truehoop link on whether Gilbert Arenas was a gunner. (And I still think you're moderately unfair to Arenas as an offensive player, and overly fond of Kobe relative to the game's other tier one players -- that is, Duncan, KG, LeBron, Wade, and McGrady.) Nonetheless, I always appreciate your close analysis, and read your blog regularly.

So thanks, and I hope you'll keep it up.

-Don

 
At Friday, June 01, 2007 3:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lebron james is the best player in basketball there is not anything he cant do he even is now hitting his freethrows that was the greatest performance or top 3 ever considering circumstances game 5 east finals on the road he's 22 years old in hostile enviroment against a great defensive team like the piston and to score 25 straight and 29 of the team last 30 points incredible.

he's strength seperates him from everybody else to me that last play almost every if not every guard would of lost the ball the people grabbed his arm he still scored kobe cant do that or wade, his jumpshot now is as good as either of them 2 and now he got the killer instinct those 2 are known to have that equals= micheal jordan or magic johnson to me.

they will win game 6 the king has arrived and took flight anint no doubt he going for jordan number 1 spot be scared jordanites be very scared.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2007 3:58:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

david this kid has arrived i wonder how all the people who were critcizing him after game namely SKIP BAYLESS will say now he showed a killer instinct they said he didnt have and great poise and rseiltency. all the people who ripped him in the first two games when he made the right play and got fouled in game 2 could put a fork in it he's the best player in the playoffs no doubt and the best player in this series. What i dont still got why couldnt steve nash do this in game 5 against san antonio nobody asking this question i asked it after the game he had 19 and 12 he should of had 35 and 7 youre a 2 time mvp and a 2 time mvp should be able to carry his team for one game without stodamire. Bottom line lebron stepped up nash didnt theres no doubt about it the diffrence of course nash got no critcism he got the stoudamire excuse to fallback on and lebron woulda got killed if he had his regualr numbers 27 and 7. the cavs will win game 6 because they got the better team really and the home crowd will help them to win. I dont think they could win the series vs san antonio but i guest my prediction was half right i thought it would be san antonio detroit.

 
At Friday, June 01, 2007 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this shows lebron should have been higher in the mvp race he's the best player in basketball he should have been up there with nash and nowitzki his team has alot less help than both of those and tim dunca.

how could they not be more considerate than giving it to irk nowitzki a star not a superstar like lebron is he got robbed last year he should of at least been second this year

 
At Friday, June 01, 2007 10:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and you had a ball hog who never makes his team better at third huh?

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 5:14:00 AM, Anonymous temp 0x00 said...

anonymous,

"he's strength seperates him from everybody else to me that last play almost every if not every guard would of lost the ball the people grabbed his arm he still scored kobe cant do that or wade"


You haven't see enough Kobe games if you think that he doesn't finish while absorbing contact on his arms. I can remember at least one occasion from last season (against Houston) where he was grabbed by not just one, but two players and hit on both arms while taking it to the basket. He finished it and drew the foul.

It amazes me how people rely on hyperbole to justify the perceived greatness of a player. It was an excellent performance, but Detroit was there all the time. If Wallace used his brain a little better and if Detroit didn't fall asleep in several occasions in defensive help situations, we wouldn't even be discussing this.

It almost seems like Detroit has become fragile in the end game.


To all of those players who are prematurely elevating Lebron to the status of best player:

one performance doesn't make or break a player.

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 5:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

It is interesting that you now say that Cleveland is the better team when before you insisted that Detroit is better. Before the playoffs began I picked Cleveland to make it to the Finals, largely because of LeBron but also because of the Cavs' excellent team defense.

Anonymous:

The MVP award is of course a regular season honor, so LeBron can no more move up with his sensational playoff performance than Dirk can move down. Kobe was the best player in the NBA this year, a fact that was reinforced by the way that he absolutely carried the Lakers into the playoffs by averaging 40 ppg FOR A MONTH, a feat that only Wilt and Elgin have accomplished in the history of the league--and Kobe and Wilt are the only players who have done this multiple times. LeBron was not the best player in the NBA during the regular season.

That said, I certainly believe that during these playoffs LeBron is making a strong case that he is a better player than Nash and Nowitzki. LeBron's increased attention to the defensive end of the court and his ability to carry his team for extended stretches certainly move him into the discussion about the best player in the league. I'm not surprised by what LeBron did against Detroit because last year and this year he showed on several occasions that he is a clutch playoff performer. I wrote after last year's playoffs that LeBron moved up to being the second best player in the league (behind Kobe). He got off to a slow start (relatively speaking) this year, which is why I did not rate him second as an MVP candidate.

By the way, just as a historical note, Kobe had 48 points and 16 rebounds--in regulation--as the Lakers beat the Kings in a road playoff game on May 13, 2001. In the Lakers' next game, they stole home court advantage from the Spurs as Bryant had 45 points and 10 rebounds--also in regulation. Those are pretty good numbers in two road playoff games, the latter of which took place in the Conference Finals against a team that was at least as good as this year's Detroit team. LeBron is a phenom, without question, but there is always a tendency to rate the most recent great performance--by anyone--higher than previous great performances, simply because the most recent one is obviously the most fresh in our minds. LeBron certainly played like MJ or Kobe versus Detroit in Game Five and deserves much credit for his superb performance.

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I'm not sure who the "you" or the "ball hog" are but if you are talking about MVP voting, Kobe Bryant and me, it should be pointed out that Bryant finished third in the official voting (in which I did not participate). I would have voted Kobe first, followed by Dirk, with Duncan, Nash and LeBron rounding out my top five.

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 5:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im anymous 2

your right kobe game vs kings was a great game i remeber he was so hot he blew his fingers and doug christie got abused by him, but shaq had like 36 in that game when wade got the 2 40 point game shaq was still getting doubled, jordan got his against utah flu game he still had scottie pippen and magic still had a game 7 in his 42 15 and 7 game

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 5:26:00 PM, Blogger Pop Cultured said...

great post...

LeBron was jaw-dropping...

 
At Saturday, June 02, 2007 6:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

i didnt finish the first when magic had that game he still had game 7 at home and kareem coming back.

kobe performances dont compare to this because shaq was on the team putting up comparable numbers plus he was there best player. davids it's not diminishing kobe it's telling the truth of the situation kobe had 62 in 3 quarters against dallas and 81 points but those were regular season games.

lebron game was agianst the best defensive team in the league a do or die game 5 if they lose this game there definetely going home in 7, and he had 25 straight points when nobody else on the team wanted the ball and 29 of the last 30.

And the shots he made were incredible I was looking at espn. com mark stein had it at 18-20 top playoff games ever WHAT, chris broussard had it at 7 WHAT, hollinger had it top 10 WHAT, greg anthony thought like me he had it top 2, my opion 1. jordan 45 against utah 2. jordan 63 against bost 3. lebron 4 jordan flu game 5. magic game.

the mvp is regular season he was hurt because he started slow but he definately should of been a real canidate but too me wasnt it was kobe nash and dirk.

 
At Sunday, June 03, 2007 11:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

To be honest, I find it difficult to "rate" these various playoff games and I also think that it trivializes them a bit. All of these performances were great, all of them were clutch, so I hate to diminish any of them. That said, if I had to pick one, I'd probably go with Magic's 42-15-7.

What LeBron did was right up there and, as I noted in my most recent post, it set the stage for Gibson's Game Six heroics because the Pistons had to send so many people to slow down LeBron that it gave the young rookie a chance to shine. To his credit, Gibson made the most of it.

 

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