Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Starting to believe

What can I say? I'm stunned. In my wildest dreams two weeks ago, the Cavaliers might have won a third game in this series by fending off elimination in Game 6.
Now, they are coming home for Game 6 with a chance to do the previously-unthinkable: knock the mighty Detroit Pistons out of the playoffs.
Tonight, Cleveland won a third consecutive playoff game for the first time in franchise history, and not just any third consecutive playoff win. It was a win that quite possibly signaled the Cavs' arrival as league heavyweight, a team that can beat any other team over the course of seven games.
It doesn't get much more difficult than trying to go into the Palace of Auburn Hills and yank a playoff game away from the Pistons. Prior to tonight, the Pistons had won all four matchups at the Palace between the teams this season. The Cavs hadn't really been in any of the games, save for a spirited second-half surge in Game 2.
Now we get to see if the Cavs and LeBron James have a killer instinct when they need it most. If they know what is good for them, they will finish this series off in six games, in front of their own fans. No road team should want any part of a Game 7 at the Palace, especially considering the Pistons would have rebounded with a Game 6 win to get there.
The Pistons are probably reeling like few times before. Nobody outside the Cavs locker room thought the Pistons would be pushed to the brink of elimination. Nobody thought the Cavs would be the team they couldn't figure out.
The most impressive aspect of this three-game winning streak has been how the Cavs have done it. They have done it by beating the Pistons at their own game: stifling defense.
Somewhere late in Game 2, the light bulb went on. The Cavs discovered that the secret to beating Detroit isn't to try and neutralize their defense, because that's not going to happen.
You beat the Pistons by matching their defense with a roadblock of your own.
By the start of Game 3, Cleveland had transformed itself from the run-happy team that had outgunned Washington in Round 1 to a slug-it-out halfcourt team that walks the ball up the floor, plays slow, deliberate offense and tries their best to lock down the basket at the defensive end.
They were betting that Detroit's offense, without a game-changing superstar player, would not be able to fight through a beefed-up Cleveland defense the way LeBron James has managed to (at least in spurts) fight through Detroit's defense.
And, don't you know, it has worked.
I really hope the Cavs can close this series out in Game 6. Up until now, I could have been cool with the Cavs losing this series, armed with a moral victory and momentum for next year. But now a moral victory would sour. I want to shock the basketball world. I want to send Rasheed Wallace and his mouth home for the summer. I want the Cavs to take out the vaunted Pistons.

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