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On passing and choking and barely scraping by for the win

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There it is. Should LeBron James have kept the ball or passed it? The replay clearly shows he had a step on Tayshaun Prince, and there's little doubt in my mind that he could have tied it up with a thunderous dunk. He didn't. He passed the buck -- I mean, "ball" -- to a teammate. And now he has two days to think about how he's far closer to Vince Carter than his idol, Warren Buffet Michael Jordan.

Of course, when I first saw the play in real time, the question about what James should have done never came to me -- I was too busy gasping at how wide (!) freaking (!) open (!) Donyell Marshall was. Only after Marshall's shot hit iron and Sasha Pavolic fouled Chauncey Billups to put the game on ice did I exhale, at which point I realized just how close this game could have been to overtime.

Did LeBron make the right choice? My FanHouse colleague Brett Edwards says no. I say ... I don't know. I don't doubt James could have tied it up, but for how long? The Pistons would have still had the ball with at least four seconds left with no chance to lose and every chance to end it. The Cavs had clearly lost their steam earlier in the quarter and the team couldn't have been feeling optimistic about overtime. Marshall, on the other hand, hit six three-pointers in his last game and was as wide open as you get in this league.

That said, can you think of another legitimate superstar (sorry, Vince) who would have passed the ball? Would Kobe? Not likely. Would Wade? No chance. Hell, if Steve Nash, the best passer in the league today, had a step on his defender, I'm guessing even he would have taken the bucket.

But honestly, is this the question James should be answering right now? Shouldn't he instead be explaining why he finished with just 10 points? Why he attempted just two field goals in the first quarter and three in the fourth? How he was so passive with the ball all night long that he didn't finish with a single free throw?

Those are things I'm sure Cleveland's media will get around to asking between now and the next game in three days. As for us Pistons fans, we have some worries of our own ... namely, why is it that the Cavs seems to have Chauncey's number? They got him in the playoffs last year, and they had him so flustered this year he turned the ball over seven times. He only attempted six shots of his own, but fortunately scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth to help Detroit take the lead for good.

Tayshaun Prince also struggled by going 1-11 from the field, but he picked up the slack from Chauncey by also dishing nine assists. But the biggest gold stars belong to Rasheed Wallace (15 points, 12 boards, seven blocks) and Rip Hamilton (24 points on 11-21 shooting, seven assists). Rip's offense was the only thing that kept Detroit in the game in the first half, and Rasheed's defense helped stop potential rallies in their tracks.

One thing the box score simply can't tell you was how important Jason Maxiell was to this game. Though he was only credited with one rebound and one block, his energy off the bench was vital, especially with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao producing for Cleveland and Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber struggling with their shot and foul trouble, respectively.

In fact, Flip Saunders deserves a big tip of the cap for keeping Maxiell in the game to close out the fourth -- Maxiell's first crunch time minutes in weeks, if not months. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come. The Pistons need someone -- anyone -- to stay active in the paint and prevent Ilgauskas from feasting on all of those easy tip-ins.

All in all, this was a ridiculously ugly game, living down to the worst expectations of those who would deem the NBA playoffs already over. But you know what? Aesthetics don't count for jack -- a win is a win is a win, especially this far into the playoffs. As the Pistons learned against the Bulls, there's no bonus points for blowing out your opponent. LeBron should bounce back in Game 2, but so should Chauncey and Tay and McDyess. I'd argue that more went wrong for Detroit than the Cavs in this game ... and yet Detroit still won.

Pistons 79, Cavs 76 box score [ESPN]
GameFlow [PopcornMachine.net]
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