Monday, May 28, 2007

The Morning After: Game 3

Eastern Conference finals, Game 3
Cavaliers 88, Pistons 82
Pistons lead series 2-1

A recipe for Grandmama's Famous Home-Cooked Playoff Win:

  • 1 cup sellout crowd at city's first conference finals game in 15 years.
  • 1 cup superstar player, twice beaten.
  • 2 tablespoons hot-shooting bench player.
  • 1 stick Larry and Eric's "Get The Fat Off The Floor" light margarine.
  • 1 pinch saucy-dressing reserve guard to run the point.
  • Mix in a large seating bowl with Charles Barkley. Bring to a boil.
  • Cover and simmer for the final 12 minutes. Serves about 20,000.

Like Chunky Soup does for Donovan McNabb, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and just about any other NFL player who has ever hired an actress to play his mom, Sunday night's Game 3 win filled Cavs fans up right.

The shift from the Palace of Auburn Hills to The Q had the desired effect for LeBron James and Co., as the friendly confines of their home court helped give the Cavs the added push they needed to turn the narrow losses in Games 1 and 2 into a narrow win in Game 3.

The seeds for the win were planted early in the first quarter when LeBron decided to stop sharing and become selfish. It's out of character for him, but at home, with his team clutching their last chance to make a series out of this, LeBron knew he had to step up and start scoring.

In the first two games, LeBron was a little too cognizant of the fact that Detroit was going to basically sit on him with their defense and force the other four Cavs on the floor to beat them. So LeBron shared the ball, giving his teammates a chance to do just that.

The trouble is, those shooting problems that have plagued the Cavs all year didn't magically disappear, and LeBron's passes resulted in a metallic chorus of leather hitting steel. That's how you score 76 points in consecutive games.

Sunday, no such problem. LeBron came out less concerned with the teeth of the Piston defense and more concerned with doing whatever it took to win. He finished with 32 points, nine boards and nine assists. Nearly triple-doubling the Pistons is kind of like nearly no-hitting the 1995 Indians. It's a statement, to say the least.

LeBron was the centerpiece of the effort, as LeBron usually is when the Cavs win. But, as you will learn when you climb Mount Zen and sit at the foot of Phil Jackson, an eagle cannot soar toward the Western Sun with but one wing. The ox cannot slay the boar with but one horn. The No. 57 Spicy Pork Combo Platter needs the fried rice to, in fact, exist as a combo platter.

Yes, young grasshopper, no matter the greatness of LeBron, he still needs help. And Sunday, that help came in the form of Daniel "Boobie" Gibson.

Gibson's stat line doesn't look all that impressive: Nine points on 2-for-4 shooting with two rebounds. But it was about quality, not quantity.

Gibson had several huge three-pointers down the stretch, the kind that gave the Cavs breathing room just as the Pistons were about to go on a game-changing run. He also played spirited defense on Chauncey Billups, and while he didn't shut Billups down, he did enough to not look like a defensive liability against the Pistons' small boulder of a point guard.

Gibson's defensive play allowed him to stay on the floor with the game on the line, which in turn left Eric Snow, Lary Hughes and their jump-shot masonry on the bench. Any fourth quarter when you can put players on the floor who are actually capable of making clutch shots, it will probably increase your chances of winning.

Mike Brown actually went with a very small backcourt for much of the second half. Damon Jones made a rare cameo at the point in lieu of Snow, who did not play. Jones didn't really affect the game, going 0-for-2 from the floor in nine minutes, but it was more about the implied threat of his outside shot, aimed at spreading Detroit's zone defenses.

The Cavs won the game with clutch shooting by LeBron and Gibson, but the foundation for the win was laid, in true Brown fashion, with defense. With Billups (13 points) and Rip Hamilton (7 points) continuing to have low-wattage series thanks in large part to Cleveland's perimeter defense, Detroit coach Flip Saunders was forced to do some of his own experimenting, playing his other Flip, former Cav Flip Murray, for 20 minutes.

Murray injected some life into the Piston attack in the first half, but as we found out last year, his lack of size and inconsistent outside shot will frequently be his undoing. Murray finished with eight points, and by the second half, Saunders was back to basics with Billups and Hamilton.

If the Cavaliers rally to win this series, the symbolic defining moment for me will have come late in the fourth quarter Sunday. With the scored tied at 68, LeBron found a seam down the left side and came face-to-face with Rasheed Wallace. Well, navel-to-face is more like it, as LeBron levitated, went up with the right hand and crushed home a dunk in Wallace's face. Wallace was literally sent spinning out of the way by his faceful of LeBron.

A root beer float on a hot summer day. The smell of freshly-cut grass. Few things in life are as satisfying as watching LeBron posterize Rasheed Wallace and his big, fat, constantly-flapping mouth.

Message to Dan Gilbert: If you ever offer a Fathead of that dunk, please reserve one for me. Thank you.

Up next: Game 4, Tuesday, 8 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena

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