This is going to be a long series. I'm loving this; these teams know each other, they're familiar with everyone on the court and they dislike each other. Every possession mattered (when the winning team only scores 79 points, you better believe every possession counts) and every loose ball was fought for.
LeBron didn't score very much, but he was strong elsewhere. We're going to hear about this for a couple days, but I don't particularly mind. Yes, is 10 points too little? Of course. But if Donyell Marshall hits his wide open 3 with 5 seconds to, no one is talking about LeBron's lack of scoring (instead we'd be hearing about a Jason Kidd type performance and we'd be seeing replays of his rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). LeBron finished with a 10-11-9 stat line, which is at once both encouraging and discouraging- it's great that he's playing a complete game, but 10 points ain't gonna cut it. Somehow LeBron ended the game with zero free throw attempts. I'm not sure how that worked out, but if I'm Mike Brown I am livid. Was LeBron overly aggressive? No. But he was hacked most of the night and there was not a whistle to be heard. Hell, Rip Hamilton tried to intentionally foul LeBron on a break away, followed by Billups hacking the crap out of him and yet they called the ball off of LeBron. Seriously? I thought the NBA wanted star power and treated LeBron with kid gloves?
Free throws (and lack thereof) killed the Cavs. They were just 11-17 (64%) while the Pistons shot an impressive 12-17. Pavlovic missed the two he took, Hughes was 5-7 and Snow and Varejao were each 1-2. Pavlovic, Hughes and James all could've gotten more freebies, though this was a rough game and you probably could give Detroit an extra trip (or two) to the stripe.
The Cavs are going to have to switch up Hughes and Pavlovic on defense. I love Pavs and he works his ass off, but he can't stay with Hamilton all night. Hughes is quicker than Sasha and would be a better fit for guarding Rip. And I think Pavlovic can do just as well against Billups as Hughes did, mostly because the Cavs are really pressuring Chauncey and making him get rid of the ball (one-on-one Billups is too strong for Hughes. If it ever comes to that, Pavlovic could body him up much more effectively). Hamilton led all scorers with 24 points on 11-21 shooting.
Z led the Cavaliers in scoring and rebounds (22 and 13). It was great to see Z have a big game, as he struggled in the playoffs last year (though he played well against Detroit in the regular season). Ilgauskas should be able to have his way with Webber for most of the series; C-Webb does have the size or athletic ability to really challenge Z on the block. Hopefully the Cavs can exploit this matchup throughout the series.
About that last play.... A lot of people are going to have a problem with Marshall getting the last shot. I can understand the frustration and I sympathize to a degree... but I really didn't have a problem with it; Marshall got a good look from a spot he was comfortable with, it wasn't a bad shot. However, the replay shows that LeBron could've (and should've?) had a clear shot at the rim; Rasheed didn't rotate quick enough and James probably could've gotten off a decent looking layup. However, Marshall was wiiiiiiiiide open. That shot falls and the Cavs win that game (IF they hold on Detroit's possession) and everyone is talking about a LBJ triple double Game 1 upset.
My only beef with that last play is the fact that Z wasn't on the court. This makes absolutely no sense at all. You need two points, your big man has been hitting shots all game, he's the best offensive rebounder in the NBA (at least tip man) and you have him on the bench? I'm not saying Z would've made a difference, but I see no reason why a guy who crashes the boards and can hit open J's is on the bench when you need two points.
Eric Snow and Larry Hughes shouldn't be sharing court time. Hughes wasn't too bad (4-13 shooting) but unlike previous games, I thought he mostly took good shots. As for Snow, at least he tries. He tried to attack the hoop and the Pistons' D but he missed a few layups (they were tough ones, but still...) and got his shot blocked/didn't get a whistle. Teams leave Larry open all game and they blatantly double LeBron with Snow's man. Neither of these two are completely useless, but having them out there together is.
Whatever you're doing at halftime, stop it. The Cavs came out flat in the third period and Detroit rattled off a 7-0 run to take a one point lead. In the first half, the Cavs had always held a slim lead with the Pistons playing catchup. The Cavs had trouble in the third against the Nets and this trend is beginning to trouble me. They wasted a great first half by coming out unprepared to start the second half. Maybe Brown gives terrible speeches, I dunno. But it's time to try something different.
Should we be encouraged or discouraged? Encouraged: the Cavs shot 37% from the floor, 64% from the stripe, 1-10 from 3 point range and LeBron scored just 10 points and didn't get to the a single time and yet the Cavs just lost by 3 in Detroit. Discouraged: Z had 22 points, Billups was shut down (7 TO's), Webber was in foul trouble (and was useless on defense), Detroit's bench was a non-factor, the Cavs grabbed 18 offensive boards (and out rebounded the Pistons 49-41) and yet they still lost. I dunno, both strains have good points and bad. Myself? I'm somewhat encouraged. LeBron didn't score, Hughes and Pavs didn't shoot well and the Cavs had a chance to steal a game with one shot a the end. Was it a great game? Lord no. But it wasn't a bad one either. If the Cavs give that kind of defensive pressure every game, they'll give themselves a very good chance of winning this series.