Friday, May 19, 2006

Pistons 84, Cavaliers 82

The Cavaliers put a major scare into the Pistons, but tonight the natural order of things appears to have been righted.
The Pistons cleared their biggest hurdle of the season, neutralizing Cleveland's memorable Game 5 win in Auburn Hills with a Game 6 win in Cleveland. They now drag the Cavs back to Michigan for Game 7 on Sunday.
It's a game the Cavs are going to have a hard time winning, especially after the Pistons had a major pressure release by winning tonight. The Cavs, who spent three games letting all the air out of Detroit's proverbial balloon, just gave them a blimpload of helium by losing tonight. They are now going where no underdog wants to go: Game 7, on the road.
The Pistons are indeed an overconfident, cocky bunch with an inflated opinion of their talent level. But they also have experience that all the talent in the world can't buy.
We saw what the Pistons were made of. They answered the bell with their season on the line. They got the win they needed to get. In other words, tonight these were the Pistons Larry Brown coached to greatness the past two seasons.
They just won, baby. Some way, any way. They just won.
Maybe the Pistons are one of those teams that doesn't try very hard until they are backed into a corner. But when their backs hit the wall, they are almost impossible to close out.
The Pistons harassed the Cavs into five fourth-quarter turnovers, and grabbed a number of critical offensive rebounds. In a sequence that all but sealed the game, Detroit grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds to perpetuate a possession as the fourth quarter clock ticked inside one minute. Off a pair of missed Rasheed Wallace free throws, Flip Murray made a leaping stab at the rebound, but it glanced off his hand and was corralled by Ben Wallace. The outlet pass forced Zydrunas Ilgauskas to foul Chauncey Billups with 15.9 seconds left.
Those are the plays that made Detroit famous the past two years. Those are the plays they weren't making in the middle part of this series.
You'd think it would be hard for the Pistons to undo in one game what it took the Cavs three games to build. But that's where the first two games of this series come into play. If the Cavs hadn't gotten off to such a sluggish start, they would be preparing to play Miami already. Instead, it appears the roll-over-and-die losses in Games 1 and 2 are going to come back to haunt them.
If the Cavs indeed lose on Sunday and begin their offseason, it will be lesson time: value the early games of a playoff series. Those games don't win a series, but they provide a great insurance policy if you hit the skids midway through. If you go up 2-0, you are never any more than one win removed from the driver's seat for the rest of the series.
The Pistons learned that lesson a while ago. The Cavs, unfortunately, might be learning it Sunday.

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