The key to beating the Pistons, it turns out, is to keep your cliches in order:
Fight fire with fire.
Bend but don't break.
Step up when your team needs you the most.
Give the Cavaliers credit for the first two, and LeBron James credit for the third as the Cavs finally appeared on the map with a Game 3 win.
Game 3 was a Pistons type of game. It was a slow-paced, half-court meat grinder that featured a 42-36 Detroit lead at the half, a game in which the losing team did not break 80 points.
Trouble for the Pistons was, they were said losing team.
Bend but don't break? The Cavs trailed Detroit by as many as 10 in the third quarter. It was the type of quarter that would have crushed the Cavs' spirit earlier in the season, but apparently the roller coaster series against Washington has galvanized Cleveland's stomachs.
And let's talk defense and three-point shooting, two pet projects of the Pistons.
The Cavs took the Pistons' attack and used it against them, stiffening their defense down the stretch and making the key shots that ultimately buried Detroit. The Pistons, for a change, were on the demoralizing receiving end of a team making all the big shots down the stretch.
After a sluggish first three quarters, LeBron finally found his high gear in the fourth, scoring 15 of his 21 points, including a dagger three-ball inside of two minutes.
LeBron also stepped up his defense, but not in the stick-to-your-man-like-glue way that coach-types like FoxSports.com's Charley Rosen preach. It was (sound of Rosen shuddering) by playing the passing lanes and going for steals.
That's not the recommended way to stop Detroit, but LeBron made it work. He stole the ball twice in the fourth quarter, including a free safety-esque interception of a cross-court pass in which he leapt in front of the intended receiver and plucked the ball out of the air. Tayshaun Prince drew contact by being in the wrong place as LeBron landed, or LeBron might have been called for traveling.
The game was yet another Game 3 yak for the Pistons. They lost a blowout in Game 3 against the Bucks, but rallied to close out the series in five.
Rasheed Wallace was so upset after the game, he went so far as to guarantee the Cavs wouldn't win another game in this series.
"We're going to bust them. It's a given," Wallace reportedly said. "Monday is their last game in this building for the season."
That's entirely possible. Hell hath no fury like a two-time defending conference champion scorned. But losing Game 3 against the Cavs is not like losing Game 3 against the Bucks.
The Pistons just let LeBron see daylight. And if you have followed the insanely steep learning curve of his career, you know he can accomplish in four games what it takes other players four seasons to accomplish.
Monday's Game 4 is suddenly very important for the Pistons, as much if not more than it is for Cleveland. The Cavs still have nothing to lose, and should (at least in theory) be playing with a clear mind. The Pistons, on the other hand, are facing the prospect of a full-blown series should the Cavs even things up with a win in Game 4. And putting out LeBron's fire when it gets going might be a tougher task than Detroit realizes.
Cleveland still has a ghost of a chance of winning this series. But perception is a huge chunk of reality, and if LeBron and his supporting cast suddenly believe there's a chance to pull off the upset, Detroit has just opened Pandora's box.