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Whatever happened to being clutch?

Chauncey Billups
Sadly, it can no longer be said that the hallmark of this Pistons team is an uncanny ability to close games late -- all of the experience in the world couldn't prevent mistake after mistake from piling up when it mattered most. And uncharacteristically, Chauncey Billups was the main culprit, making some of the most boneheaded, un-clutch plays I've seen from him in years.

I'm not trying to pin the loss on Chauncey -- mistakes were made by everyone the entire game, and the fact the Pistons came out ahead in just one of four quarters suggests this wasn't a game they really deserved to win in the first place. But still, they had multiple chances to steal this one, but it was Chauncey's bad decisions (a horrible bad pass here, a rushed three-point attempt in transition there) in the final minutes that prevented Detroit from having a shot.

(And of course, lest any Cavs fans be tempted to play the "disrespect card," I'm not denying that Cleveland came through by doing exactly what they had to do -- namely, playing defense and gobbling up rebounds. Against a lesser opponent perhaps Detroit could have prevailed, but the Cavs clearly had the Pistons rattled.)

Chauncey finished with 23 points but was held to just five points and not a single made field goal after halftime. He also recorded just two assists with five turnovers, including three in the final quarter. Rip Hamilton also regained some of his touch with 19 points, albeit on 9-21 shooting. Surprisingly, Chauncey and Rip were also the team's leading rebounders with nine and eight boards, respectively.

The Cavs unexpectedly started Larry Hughes despite his ailing foot, and it's a damn shame he couldn't have stayed in the game longer as he scored just two points in 16 minutes. Rookie Daniel Gibson was the real story for Cleveland, coming off the bench to score 21 points on just seven official shots. How did he manage that? By going 12-12 from the line, taking a legitimate foul here and there while faking out the ref the rest of the time with an assortment of flops that likely caused a proud, single tear to drip down Manu Ginobili's cheek.

But you know what? More power to him -- as ugly and cheap as it looks at home, it's working. I hate to say it because he's a member of the Cavs ... but on some level I actually enjoy watching Gibson play. Why? Because he's having a good time and it shows. Maybe it's because he's a rookie, maybe it's because he's going up against his childhood idol Chauncey Billups (and, um, coming out on top) or maybe it's because he's just an authentic nice guy -- but whatever it is, he's having fun. It's nice to see a guy celebrate a basket with a smile instead of a stone face, or worse yet, a scowl. (Not that I'm a fan of seeing anyone wearing wine and gold celebrate, but if they're going to do it, at least they can do it in a manner which doesn't make me want to put a foot through my television.)

There was a lot of other stuff probably worth mentioning or discussing (just to name a few, there was Drew Gooden's attempted take-down on Rasheed Wallace, Rip's attempted free-throw jinx on LeBron, Rasheed's tech for throwing his headband, LeBron accidentally tipping in a shot for the Pistons late in the game and the announcers completely ignoring it, Chris Webber's disappearance), so go at it in the comments.

I'm sure a lot of Pistons fans are down right now. Honestly, I am, too. It's true the Pistons are just two wins away from the NBA Finals, but it's also true that they've won just three of their last seven games. These aren't the same Pistons that we saw sweep the Magic in the first round and blow out the Bulls in the first two games of the second round. I can't say I'm surprised, though.

Detroit may be in the Conference Finals for the fifth straight year, but every single one of those playoff runs has been marked by far too many games with long scoring droughts. It's been the bane of three different head coaches, so even though Flip Saunders will always confuse me with his substitution patterns and play-calling, it's impossible pinning the blame solely on the coaching staff. For whatever reason, I don't think the core of this team is actually capable of playing consistent basketball for too many games in a row, and when they get out of rhythm it always seems to take them a few games to adjust. We can only hope things snap back into place at the Palace on Thursday.

Cavs 91, Pistons 87 box score []
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