"They trapped me; they went under screens; they went over screens," said James, who was held to one second-half field goal Sunday in the Cavs' 79-61 Game 7 loss to Detroit. "I've seen almost every defense that I could possibly see for the rest of my career in this series.
"That's why they're Eastern Conference champions, and that's why they keep winning."
Those were Lebron's postgame comments after the Pistons handed him the first playoff series loss of his career. Belying his villain status within most Piston circles, "King" James was able to pay tribute to his opponent despite his disappointment. And it is time for us Piston fans to make some painful admissions as well: the Pistons may or may not be the world-beaters we made them out to be prior to the playoffs, and Lebron is that good and worthy of the "We are all witnesses" campaign.
First, on James. He's great. There isn't much else that need be said. With his substandard supporting cast, he took a stranglehold on the best team in basketball and almost proved that one bona fide superstar can trump a great starting five. As ridiculous as Nike's "witness" ad campaign seemed while the Pistons were pushing their leads to 30 in games 1 and 2, it appeared equally prophetic as James et al wrestled away the next three. As maddening as it for Piston fans, this series will go down as a chapter in the Lebron James story. And James' actions had as much to do with it as any Piston inaction.
Next, the Pistons. They certainly provided some moments of solemnity to us sweep-happy homers. And they unfortunately reinforced the importance of psychological advantages in playoff basketball. Whether or not the Boys in Blue lost games 3 and 4 due to a lack of focus/respect, no one can deny that the Cavs then played the Pistons even in games 5 and 6. Those latter two -- complete with a "Guaransheed" and some follow-up trash talk from the defending Eastern Conference champs -- were games the Pistons wanted badly, and hence (as our friends at Yay have stated) the "lack of effort" excuse no longer sufficed. The Cavs were suddenly looking at the Pistons as peers rather than professors and felt they had an honest chance to take the series. They almost did.
All is not so bleak though. For those who doubt the Pistons' chances against Kazaam and the Heat; for those who worry that the Cavs exposed the cracks in this year's Piston team, check out Zydrunas Ilgauskus' postgame quote:
"They took it up to another level in the second half," Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "We got real stagnant on offense and they showed us a level we hadn't seen in these playoffs."
A seven-game series. Two elimination games. And it seems the Pistons may have finally found their playoff form. And if games 3 through 5 were a mirage, and the Pistons are truly back to their 2004/2005 postseason selves, well then this seven-game suare with the Cavs may be remembered as the tonic needed to shatter this team's ego and restore their sense of urgency. We can only hope.
This series can be summed up in one word: whew.