Big game, huh? And for practically the first time all year, LeBron and the Cavs showed up (and the crowd happily followed along). This was a must win game, the first Eastern Conference Finals game in Cleveland in 15 years and the Cavs did not fail to disappoint. LeBron attacked the Pistons' D from the very beginning of the game to the very end, put the Cavs on his back and took them to victory.
This was the LeBron we saw last season. Aggressive, focused and worthy of all the hype. LeBron started the game off with a dunk (which got the crowd involved early) and he never let up. LeBron was hitting step back 3s, fade aways and throwing down dunks over Rasheed Wallace- in short, he was unstoppable. When he plays this way and he's making those shots (step back 3s?!), it doesn't matter who's guarding him or who he's playing- he is unstoppable. LeBron had the type of night that makes you think to yourself "Oh yeah, that's why he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school". LeBron poured in 32 points, dished out 9 assists and grabbed 9 boards (and he led everyone in each of those categories).
Larry Hughes got hurt. He only received 22 minutes and scored 6 points (and actually, he made both his field goals and both his free throws) before hurting his foot. Hughes came back for a little while, but was obviously limping which forced Brown to sit him. I'm not sure how many Cavs fans complained...
Larry injury forced Brown to do something absolutely crazy: he played Sasha Pavlovic and Daniel Gibson at the same time. Not that Brown went into this willingly; he had Damon Jones chasing Chauncey Billups around for a little while before relenting and putting in the two young guns.
And they responded. Gibson had a break out game, scoring 9 points and playing some great defense on Billups and (surprisingly) Tayshuan Prince. The Pistons went right at Gibson and he held his ground. They even had Prince attacking Boobie in the post and Gibson stopped him. Gibson also opened up the floor at the offensive end and nailed a huge 3 with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the game. Meanwhile, Pavlovic threw in 13 points and 5 assists without turning the ball over once.
Brown went with the offensive lineup down the stretch and it paid off. This shouldn't come as too big a shock to anyone, but a lineup with Gibson, Pavlovic, James, Gooden and Z is pretty hard to defend. Everyone out there has a solid offensive game; they can shoot, they can score inside and oh, they can open up the floor for James. There are no one-dimensional players in this five (you know, big men with polished low post games and guards who can spread the floor AND make it). It may have taken a Hughes injury for Brown to finally turn to this group but to his credit, he kept these guys out there even after Hughes felt good enough to return. I just hope we see more of this lineup down the road.
You know, at some point this is a trend. Chauncey Billups was 4-14 and had 5 turnovers. He's averaging just 13 points and almost 6 turnovers a game. He shot just 33% against the Cavs this season. There might be a reason why he keeps having bad games against the Cavaliers and it may just have something to do with Mike Brown's defense.
How about that bench? Gibson's 9 points were the only offense from Cleveland's bench bunch. Varejao took some bad shots, Marshall and Jones missed their 3 balls while Eric Snow never got off the bench. Gibson and Varejao are the only bench players with any confidence right now (and Varejao used that confidence to throw up a running left hand hook shot) but it would really help a bit if Marshall could find his shot (the crowd actually groans when he comes off the bench. That's not a good sign).
Gooden and Z played well. Zydrunas had 16 points on 7-14 shooting (he also hit a clutch jumper late) while Gooden added 12 points (though he had some shots which... let's just say I didn't care for). Both guys grabbed some big boards down the stretch, though neither had more than 7 for the game. Both guys are playing with a high level of confidence, but it is really noticable with Ilgauskas. He is not afraid to take big jumpers late in the game anymore (you couldn't say that last season).
So, LeBron really prepared himself. Read the Daily Dime, LBJ showed up to the game three hours early, was shooting jumpers before the camera crew set up and he *gasp* turned off his cell phone. So you're telling me that when you take out distractions, work on your and are focussed on basketball that you play like that? Let's do this 'show up early and turn off the cell phone' stuff more often. (I don't want to sound too harsh on LeBron, but showing up 3 hours early and turning off your cell phone seems like a no-brainer thing to me. Don't get me wrong, I love this but this is something that I can imagine Bird and Jordan doing every game).
Should the Pistons be worried? Ya, they're up 2-1 in the series and if they win Tuesday, this is pretty much over. But the Cavs had wide open looks that would've/could've/should've won each of the first two games. The Cavs could very easily be up 2-1 or even 3-0. The Cavs have shown that they can hang with the Pistons and that this is going to be a fight. I really think that the offensive lineup we saw Sunday night could prove to be the difference in the series.