Cavs Toy With Pistons Before Slapping Them Around Like They Stole SomethingCleveland's 102-84 game one victory over Detroit is a classic example of a game in which the score was close for a while but the outcome was never really in doubt--not for the players on either team and not for anyone who watched the game. The Pistons briefly led by two points and the Cavs were never ahead by more than 10 until late in the first half but the whole exercise had an air of inevitability about it, as the Pistons went through the motions on defense, made some shots, missed some shots and then submitted meekly when the Cavs finally broke the game open late in the third quarter.
LeBron James finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He shot 13-20 from the field, made all 14 of his free throws and went wherever he wanted to on the court while facing little resistance from the Pistons; that observation is not meant to diminish how well he played but rather to emphasize the routine, punch the clock, put in two and a half hours and then go home mentality displayed by the Pistons. ABC commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy both repeatedly observed that the Pistons looked disinterested both in their game plan and in each other, neither cheering in support of their teammates nor even offering a helping hand when a teammate fell to the floor. Van Gundy said that this typifies the attitude displayed by the team throughout the season and is a strong indication that time has run out for this particular group of players.
Indeed, it seems like the Detroit Pistons have three games left--four at the most if they win one game at home to avoid being swept--until Joe Dumars begins the next phase of blowing up the old nucleus and rebuilding the franchise around the young players plus whoever he will acquire with the salary cap space freed up when he gets rid of the already banished Allen Iverson and the occasionally interested Rasheed Wallace, the man who should be the team's best low post offensive threat but who attempted 319 three pointers and just 101 free throws in 66 regular season games.
James received balanced support from several of his teammates. Joe Smith scored 13 points on 5-10 shooting in just 19 minutes for the Cavs, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams and Delonte West scored 12 points each. Cleveland's defense was a little shaky in the first quarter--yielding 25 points--but the Pistons only scored 20, 20 and 19 points in the final three stanzas.
Rodney Stuckey led the Pistons with 20 points but he shot just 7-21 from the field. Although Stuckey has shown flashes of talent as a strong, penetrating combo guard, it is difficult to understand why the Pistons apparently not only believe that he can be a worthy successor to Chauncey Billups but that he is also a more effective player right now than Allen Iverson, who averaged 26.4 ppg in 82 games for a 50 win Denver team last season while leading the NBA in minutes played (41.8 mpg) for the third year in a row and seventh time in his remarkable career. The only time that Detroit beat Cleveland in four regular season games this season is when Iverson scored a team-high 23 points on 8-16 shooting on November 19 as the Pistons won 96-89; not coincidentally, in that game Wallace had arguably his best all around performance of the season (21 points, 15 rebounds). Iverson and Wallace proved to be a deadly screen/roll duo in early season victories over the Cavs and Lakers but the Pistons inexplicably did not continue to feature that action even though it posed obvious matchup challenges even to elite teams.
Richard Hamilton played a solid game (15 points, four assists) and Rasheed Wallace had 13 points and nine rebounds (but no free throw attempts) but James simply annihilated his Olympic teammate Tayshaun Prince at both ends of the court: Prince accumulated a game-worst -20 plus/minus rating while scoring four points on 2-7 shooting and repeatedly getting burned defensively by James, though some of the responsibility for that falls on his teammates who were not in proper help position. Inexplicably, the Pistons crowd James on the perimeter--particularly in the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, in addition to this game--and practically usher him to the hoop instead of playing off of him and encouraging him to shoot midrange jump shots, the facet of the game that remains James' only weakness. Van Gundy mentioned this repeatedly during the telecast.
That said, James played so well and so efficiently that there may not have been a suitable plan to deal with him in this game; according to ESPN, James shot 8-9 from the field--including 4-4 on midrange jumpers--and scored 21 of his 38 points with six seconds or less remaining on the shot clock. Van Gundy reiterated his earlier statement that James should not only win the MVP but also the Most Improved Player award.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:56 AM