That, my friends, is why people around these parts say "Jason Maxiell eats babies."
For the second game in a row, Maxiell was an absolute difference maker. In Game 1, it happened down the stretch in the fourth quarter, doing all of the little things that aren't always reflected in a box score. In Game 2, though, he entered the game early, taking over for an injured Antonio McDyess midway through the first quarter and announcing his presence with a flurry of vicious dunks. He's a baaaad man, making King James look all silly and whatnot in that poster-worthy shot above.
During his first 12-minute stint, Maxiell had four dunks among five shots, including one coming on an alley-oop and another on a fast break (which he triggered, by the way, picking LeBron James' pocket on the other end). All in all, it was a good day to be Jason Maxiell and a bad day to be an infant hailing from Cleveland: he finished the game with 15 points, six boards and two blocks (a would-be third rejection was called goaltending) in just 22 minutes. The only mark on his game was his 1-6 performance at the free-throw line, but seriously, you can live with that on days you get all of the other stuff.
The funny thing is that Maxiell wasn't even supposed to be in the game: after Rasheed Wallace was tagged with two quick fouls, McDyess entered the game, but he lasted just 90 seconds before taking a Zydrunas Ilgauskas elbow to the jaw, which left him shaken and (if I saw things correctly) bloodied. But even if he wasn't the first or second option, he ended up being the best one. The Pistons missed his energy after he left the game four minutes into the second quarter, and I don't think it's a coincidence that his absence coincided with Cleveland's storming out to a 12-point lead heading into halftime.
Fortunately, the Pistons dominated the third quarter (yet again), erasing most of Cleveland's lead while setting the stage to take over the game for good in the fourth. And while much of the post-game conversation will center on whether or not LeBron James was fouled on the final shot of the game, the non-call was consistent with how much of the game was officiated.
Oh sure, there were a couple of bad calls here and there (blocking on Rip? really?), but for the most part the referees were letting the players play -- much to the dismay of Anderson Varejao, who marred an otherwise praise-worth performance (14 points, 14 boards) by flopping at the slightest contact. In fact, I'd argue that Varejao's love affair with gravity may have cost the Cavs down the stretch -- it has to be hard for the refs to feel sympathetic to a team that spends much of the time trying to fool them. Rasheed, for one, was not amused:
"All that flopping, they need to make that a technical foul for next year. That's not defense in the fourth quarter and I'm glad we have veteran officials to see that."
In any case, at least LeBron took the shot this time. He was more aggressive on the whole than in Game 1, but for a superstar I'm still surprised at how passive he can be for long periods of time. Where was in the third quarter when the Pistons fought their way back into the game? He attempted just a single field goal in that period, and finished the game with just 19 points. More aggression probably could have kept the Pistons at bay, but for whatever reason it's just not clicking with him this year.
To be fair, we should probably give Tayshaun Prince some of the credit for James' struggles. Though Prince is struggling hard-core with his offensive game (seriously, even Antonio McDyess is laughing at him right now) (OK, now I feel bad -- McDyess is the nicest guy in the world, he probably cries himself to sleep feeling bad for Prince), his defense has been crucial. Despite scoring just one point and going 0-8 from the field, Prince actually led the Pistons with a +14 in the plus/minus column. To be honest, that surprised me, but it's a testament to him doing more than the box score reveals.
If you saw the game, you already know that the Pistons couldn't have come close to winning the game without Rasheed, who finished with 16 points, 11 boards, two blocks and two steals. (Quick question: DBB reader Erin pointed out that Rasheed has been wearing a knee brace lately: has anyone heard anything about that? Those aren't always the result of a specific injury but sometimes used just for support, but maybe I missed something ...)
That's about the gist of it. I'm kind of glossing over some recurring themes (namely, Chauncey's continued struggles, some uncharacteristic sloppiness from the team as a whole) that were also present in Game 1, but that's just because I think in time those problems will right themselves. The Cavs have a legitimate defense, but I'm guessing sooner or later everything is going to start clicking for four straight quarters and the Pistons will blow this team out.
Last but not least ... did anyone else get sucked into watching Torque on TNT after the game? What an awesomely bad movie -- it sucked me right in after the NBA coverage ended, and made for some good conversation with FanHouse colleague PostmanE. We also chatted a bit about the game and the series as a whole, so be sure to check that out when you're done here, which (I promise) will be soon. How soon? Like now. I'm done.