Last night's game between the Pistons and Cavs was highly entertaining, but I could have done without watching it. I hate to say it, but kudos to LeBron James for coming through when it mattered. His potential game-winner at the end of regulation was impressive, even if it was a fraction of a second late, but the play that really jumped out at me was his previous possession.
After Rip Hamilton converted a three-point play to put the Pistons up by two with 19 seconds left, the Cavaliers called a time out. The ensuing play was dead simple: give James the ball at the top of the key and let him tie the game. It was frustrating to watch, because anyone paying attention knew what he was going to do -- including Rasheed Wallace, who did his best to clog the lane under the basket for as long as he could. Just when Rasheed had to bail to avoid the defensive three-second call, LeBron made his move, slashing to the hoop and tying the game with an emphatic dunk with nary a defender there to touch him.
It was brutally simple by design yet remarkably executed when put into action. When LeBron had the ball, he patiently waited for Rasheed to bail, knowing that the Pistons couldn't risk a defensive three-second technical (Detroit was only up two, the last thing they would have wanted would be for the Cavs to get a free-throw and the ball back). It was an impressive sequence, and one that I took the wind out of Detroit's sails. (I'm definitely simplifying things, but after the way regulation ended, I had a hunch the game was over.)
The Pistons still had just under five seconds left to hit a game-winning shot, but Rip rushed a 16-footer and Cleveland got the rebound. After LBJ's attempt to win the game in regulation was waved off, the Pistons proceeded to roll over in overtime.
There was other stuff that happened in the game (say, the first 47 minutes that I glossed over), and too much of it went in Detroit's favor (the 44-24 free-throw disparity in favor of the Pistons is really what kept them in the game, especially given their ice-cold start) for me to try suggesting the Pistons were robbed. After getting manhandled the first two times these teams met (in Dec. and Feb.), the Cavs entered the Palace knowing they needed to send some sort of message to the Pistons before the start of the playoffs, and they did. The Pistons, meanwhile, were likely still reeling from the news that Lindsey Hunter would be suspended the next 10 games.
Chauncey Billups played 46 minutes and dished out 14 assists. He scored 16 points but shot just 2-10 from the field and 12-13 from the line. He's been in a huge rut lately, shooting just 27% the last four games. If you noticed that none of his three-pointers seem to be dropping, you are correct: he's connected on just 1-16 in his last four games and has shot just 21% since January. Here's to hoping that playing in front of friends and family in his hometown of Denver will help him right his ship.
Factoring in Hunter's absence, Billups' struggles and the fact that Rasheed isn't close to 100% due to his ankle injury, well, the prospects of a five-game road trip out west has me more than a little worried. The Pistons have lost three of their past four, with the only win being a narrow victory over one of the league's basement teams. At the risk of hyperbole, these next five games very well may be what determines if the Pistons enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East.