Cavs claim third straight win
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. ” It’s time to start taking the Cleveland Cavaliers seriously. Even the Pistons must realize that by now.
LeBron James scored 32 points and assisted on Drew Gooden’s game-winning shot Wednesday night to lead the Cavs to an 86-84 victory over Detroit ” Cleveland’s third straight win en route to a 3-2 lead in the second round series.
The Pistons, on the brink of elimination after two straight trips to the NBA Finals, have not been giving much respect to the Cavs, who are in the second round for the first time since 1993.
That should change now, but will it be too late for the confident Pistons?
Game 6 of the series is Friday night in Cleveland, and if the Pistons force a Game 7, they will be back on their home court Sunday.
Ben Wallace blew a chance to give the Pistons the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter when he missed two free throws with 40 seconds left. That left one of the NBA’s worst free-throw shooters 0-for-7 for the game, which remained tied at 84.
James deferred to Gooden on the ensuing possession, then he came through with a low-post basket to put the Cavs ahead by two with 27 seconds left.
After a timeout, Donyell Marshall blocked Tayshaun Prince’s shot in the lane and James tipped a rebound ” off Lindsey Hunter’s missed jumper ” to teammate Eric Snow, who tossed the ball down the court to kill time.
The Pistons had the ball back with 1.9 seconds left, but could not get a shot off to try to force overtime ” or win the game they didn’t seem to deserve.
Cleveland beat Detroit 74-72 and 86-77 to even the series after being routed in Game 1 and losing Game 2 by six points after a big early deficit.
James played like a star ” again ” in his first postseason appearance, and many of his teammates chipped in throughout Game 5.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 14 before fouling out, Marshall had 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench and three other players added at least six points apiece.
Prince scored 21, Chauncey Billups had 17 before fouling out, Richard Hamilton scored 15, Rasheed Wallace added 10 while battling foul trouble and reserve Antonio McDyess chipped in with 11 points.
The Cavs went ahead 63-53 midway through the third quarter on James’ 3, leaving Prince holding his jaw. Then, the Pistons punched back, perhaps fearing elimination for the first time in the series.
A 13-3 run tied the game before Cleveland went back ahead 68-66.
The Cavs scored the first six points of the fourth, the last point coming on a free throw when Rasheed Wallace was called for a technical after his fifth foul.
McDyess ” who was held to six total points in Games 3-4 in Cleveland ” made three straight shots to tie the game at 77 with 5:10 left.
After the score was knotted again, Cavs reserve Damon Jones was fouled as he made a 3-point shot, but he missed the ensuing free throw, then had a shot blocked, leading to Billups’ layup that made it 82-81.
McDyess sat on the bench for several minutes following the game ” putting his hands behind his head, staring across the court in disbelief.
The Pistons began the playoffs at the favorites to win it all after falling just short of repeating as champions last year in Game 7 at San Antonio.
The first quarter Wednesday ended 20-all, the fifth tie of the game after 10 lead changes.
Cleveland went ahead 36-31 midway through the second quarter ” the largest lead for either team up to that point ” as its reserves were outscoring Detroit’s bench 15-0.
James scored four straight points late in the first half, giving him 22 points and putting the Cavs ahead by seven, before Cleveland took a 50-45 lead at halftime.
Ilgauskas gave James plenty of support in the first half. He had nine points ” surpassing his point totals from the previous two games ” and seven rebounds along with four blocks, which tied a Cleveland playoff record for blocked shots in a half. Ilgauskas finished with six blocks, tying a franchise postseason record.
While the Cavs were warming up at halftime with a 50-45 lead, James leaned against the scorer’s table checking out the box score.
He had to like what he saw.
The 21-year-old phenom scored 22 first-half points on 9-of-17 shooting; Ilgauskas was off to a strong start; and the Cavs’ reserves were outscoring Detroit’s 17-2.
Cleveland went ahead on Marshall’s 3-pointer with 8:57 left in the first half, and the Pistons didn’t have the lead the rest of the game.
For the third straight game, the Cavs were without starting shooting guard Larry Hughes, who has been with his family since the death of his 20-year-old brother.
The entire team attended Justin Hughes’ funeral in St. Louis on Tuesday, the morning after winning Game 4, then flew to suburban Detroit without a practice between games. Cavs general manager Danny Ferry said there was still no timetable for Hughes to return.
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