Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cleveland 101, Detroit 97

This Larry Hughes character may not be all bad. Sure, he need 16 shots to score 12 points, but he also had 8 boards and 6 assists. We all know (at least we should all know) that Hughes isn't going to be a high percentage shooter, but when he gives you the other stuff, you don't seem to mind as much. Would I like him to shoot better? Of course. But I'll take 12-8-6 anytime. Oh yea, the Cavs are 3-0 him starting at the point.

Man, I hate the Pistons. I'm not used to this... see, the Cavs hadn't been in the playoffs for awhile, so Cavalier fans haven't had a team to hate. Sure, I still hated the Bulls, but they sucked too (and can a non-Bulls fan really hate Tim Floyd?) But then the playoffs happened. And it was great. Now, Washington bugs me a bit (mostly just Tom Knott of the Washington Times) but it's not a deep hatred. But the Pistons? I hate Detroit basketball. Hates it. I absolutely love to hate them. I've missed this.

LeBron James is back to being LeBron James. Just look at this: 41 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and a ridonkulous block on Rip Hamilton. He was also .1 second away from a game winner. He played almost exactly the way you'd want him to; he went inside early, he didn't settle for shots, he played tough defense, he (mostly) hit his free throws. Sure, he missed one of two late free throws in OT, but there's not much else you could criticize about his performance (but I'll nit pick: he allows himself to be pushed off the block too easily and he ends up receiving the ball 'posting up' about 18 feet from the hoop).

So does this mean he was coasting? LeBron has obviously taken his game to another level over the last few games. Was he conserving his energy? Was he coasting? I don't know. All I do know is that if he played with this kind of intensity every night, the Cavs would not lose many games.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a large man. This was probably Z's best game since his return. Sure, he had some points early on, but he also hung around late in the game as well. Z buried three jumpers late in the fourth quarter and in OT that really helped the Cavaliers out. Z hasn't played particularly well in big games this year (though, can you name me a Cavalier who has?) but after the game, Jeff Phelps dropped this quote: "Zydrunas now, in three games against the Pistons this year, averaging 14 points and 14.6 rebounds a game." Is that true? How have I missed this?

This is why Drew Gooden is Drew Gooden. Over the last 5 games, Drew was averaging 5.4 points and 6.8 boards. Not good. So it makes perfect sense that Gooden dropped 22 and 10 on the Pistons. Perfect. Sense. If Gooden played with that kind of passion every ni- No, I'm not going to say it. Let's not lament about consistency (or lack there of), let us bask in Gooden's fantastic game. Well done Drew.

Started things out right. The Cavs probably played their best quarter of the season in the first period. The out scored the Pistons 34-24, they pushed the ball, they shared the ball and they took good shots. My lord, it was amazing. But then the second quarter happened. The Cavs went ice cold from the field (and stopped pushing/going inside as much) and Detroit clawed their way back into it on blood, guts and free throws. The Cavs ended up taking a 2 point lead into halftime.

Starters? Good. Bench? Not so much. All of the starters played well, I've already addressed four of 'em and while Pavlovic didn't have a strong game points-wise (just 6), he did have 5 boards and 4 assists. Pavs did have trouble with Hamilton a bit (29 points), but I thought Sasha did a relatively decent job defensive job. As for the non-starters? Only Varejao was a factor (4 points, 7 boards and a nifty assist) and while I can't exactly say that Snow played poorly... I disliked having to see him out there so much. Also, according to the box score, Shannon Brown and Donyell Marshall both played and missed 2 shots each (again, not really poor play, but nothing to write home about either).

The refs were gawd-awful. By halftime, Detroit had out shot the Cavs at the foul line by a line of 29-10. Now, it started off innocent enough; the Cavs were either A) making their shots or B) settling for jumpers, so you don't expect them to get a lot of freebies. Plus, the Pistons made a concerted effort to get in the lane and get to the line; they weren't shooting as well, so they forced the issue. But by the time the game was close again (late second quarter) the refs were bailing out Detroit with phantom calls. Coach Mike got himself a well deserved (and timed) technical foul (and Damon Jones got off the bench to calm him down. That was the only time he got up). The refs tried to right the ship in the 3rd quarter, giving the Cavs some calls (and the Pistons FREAKED OUT. My lord, they got every call all game and Webber gets called for a charge (after he traveled twice) and they go insane. I hate the Pistons. So much).

There's more. They also broke out the rarely seen and rarely effective double foul. Yes, a double foul. Now, I've heard on double technicals (the Charles Oakley/Dennis Rodman classics), but never double fouls. The play was a block/charge call involving James and Jason Maxiell. Now (forgive me lord for what I'm about to do), it looked like James committed a charge; he bowled over Maxiell. But the refs called it a block. Obviously, I'm OK with this. But once you make the call, stick with it. Or at least if you're going to change the call, call the charge. But a double foul pleases nobody and pisses off everyone (and confused the home viewer). Well done.

Big brass ones. Not only did the Cavs show up and win in a hostile environment and beat a division leading rival but they did it in stunning fashion. The Cavs got a big lead early on (impressive) but then blew it in the second quarter (oops) but managed to take the lead back going into halftime (good). In the third quarter they fought hard, kept it close and basically treaded water (OK). But they started out the fourth tied and proceeded to let the Pistons go on a 11-2 run (oh shit). But the Cavs stuck around (good). They chipped away at the Detroit lead and actually went ahead with 2:31 to go (holy crap). LeBron hit what looked to be the game winning shot as time expired (holy mother of God YES!!!) but it was eventually was waved off and they had to go into overtime (gulp). The Cavs then had to go out and win a game that they thought they had already won (faaaantastic). And they did. Talk about mental toughness, that's about as good of a regular season win as I've seen and it's definitely their biggest win of the season.

Though we've seen this before. The Cavs play poorly, then they play well and it looks like they've "turned the corner" and they proceed to drop a big turd against a team they should be destroying. This has been going on since the first week of the season, do we have any assurances that they won't crap on us again? Nope. But I think it helps that they have a relatively tough schedule coming up (@ Mil, Ind, Sac, @ Mem, UTH) and their only real let down game isn't for another week or so. Plus, we're now into the crunch time of the season and the end is in sight; hopefully they can keep this intensity (and this lineup) throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

and finally...

Suddenly I feel a lot better about things. I no longer want to strangle Larry Hughes, Pavlovic is playing well, the rookies both seem to be contributing (albeit at different times), LeBron is back to doing LeBron type things and somehow Z is averaging 14 and 14 against Detroit. Feels good, doesn't it?


njt22 said...

Thanks Ben, another good recap!

BW said...

Good wrap up Benny. I was about to call last night when Lebron hit that game winner, but you could tell on TV it was late coming out of his hand. Anyways, hows this for productivity: Marshall missed 2 spot up 3's and had a BAD turnover late in the game. UGH. Not pretty. Im not really sure if his style is going to fit in now that we have Hughes running the point. If we are going to run a high motion offense, sitting in the corner and waiting to shoot is not going to work. Sasha played great defense down the stretch. I know Rip had 10 straight at one point but that was because he was the only one doing anything and he got a couple of really cheap fouls. How many times does Webber travel? I seriously believe the guy has as many pivot feet as Gary Payton or dare I say, Kevin McHale. Bitch about Detroit aside, what an amazing game. That was one of the best regular season games Ive ever seen. Definately a playoff atmospheere. I got a ? for ya Benny. If Detroit keeps slumping and we keep Hughes at the 1, think we can take the east? Also, who would you rather see in the 1st round: NJ, Miami, Orlando, or Indiana. It seems like Miami is hitting its peak and NJ keeps hanging around. Any way i see it, Miami, NJ, and Orlando give us fits and Id like to see a D-Wade Lebron matchup later in the playoffs. Heres to playing Indiana if they can keep the pace.

Ben said...

I've been down on Marshall the entire season. I hate the way the offense looks while he's out there and the lack of offensive boards bug the hell out of me (3 of the 4 big men crash the O boards very well. Marshall might be able to, but he's 25 feet from the hoop).

I hope Mike Brown praises Sasha after the game (in private or one-on-one) because he gave a great effort on both sides, but his stats (and Hamilton's stats) don't really show it.

I think the East is definitely up for grabs and right now it's just a matter of the Cavs keeping their intensity up. I'm not scared of Miami in the playoffs (especially with a hurt D.Wade) and Orlando is good but unproven. Detroit will still be formidable (the Cavs won despite their FTs this time) and for some reason NJ scares me in a short series. NJ has given the Cavs trouble with their run and gun style over the years and they match up well against the Cavaliers (James has to actually play defense and the Cavs have to defend a PG- not good).

Basically, the Cavs control their own destiny- if they keep up this level of play, they should have no problem winning the East. But we've been down this road before this season...

Erik said...

It's all coming back to me now. The only team in the NBA I truly despise is the Pistons.

The Bulls, sure they were easy to hate with Jordan, but since then ... meh.

But those Pistons. It's all coming back to me. Rick Mahorn felonious assault on Mark Price. Bill Laimbeer's mouth (when a Cleveland reporter asked him for an interview during the 1988-89 season, he told him "Fuck you, you fucking asshole.")

Rodman before he became a freak. Isiah Thomas' perpetual smirk. Come to think of it, the only Piston I really liked was Joe Dumars because he shut up and played the game.

Now, we have more of the same. Rasheed Wallace, who looks like a braying mule, guaranteeing playoff series wins and making good on it, Chris Webber. Chauncey Billups. I can't stand them.

And don't get me started on "DEEEEEE-TROIT BASKET-BALL."

I didn't really have a chance to loathe the Pistons during the playoffs last year because everything happened so fast. The Pistons and Cavs were just getting to know each other again.

But now, with two home losses and this win last night, I'm starting to remember it all. I was as fired up as I've been watching a game this year. In the fourth quarter, I was down on all fours in front of the TV yelling "You WANT this, LeBron! You WANT this!" A little psycho, maybe, but that's what Cavs-Pistons does to me.

I think it's finally under LeBron's skin, too. He's starting to really hate losing to the Pistons. You saw it during the game. No diplomacy. No giggling on the bench. LeBron was as cutthtroat as I've seen him this year.

Maybe we are finally starting to see a little streak of MJ in LeBron. He wasn't going to be a champion until he slayed the Detroit dragon. He had to learn to hate losing to them. Now LeBron is starting to do the same thing.

A Cavs-Pistons rivalry renewed. I'm loving it.

Ben said...

The Cavs-Pistons series (Mark Price/Mahorn) was a little bit before my time. My first real basketball experience was the 91-92 season (Cavs won 57 games and lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conf. Finals).

I never really hated the Pistons, by the time I developed by basketball following, the Pistons were already on their way down.

I hated the Bulls with a passion. God damn I hated Jordan and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how anyone from Ohio could root for that asshole.