Coming into Game 6, the Pistons were determined not to let LeBron James single-handedly destroy their NBA Finals hopes by allowing him to waltz through the paint all night long completely unscathed. Well, mission accomplished, I guess, albeit in a U.S.S. Lincoln kind of way. LeBron was held to a modest 20 points, mostly earned the hard way by going 14-19 from the stripe.
But while the Pistons succeeded in not allowing LeBron to do it alone, they still lost the game by letting a mere rookie bury them. Daniel Gibson, a baby-faced killer from long range, scored 19 of his career-high 31 points in the fourth quarter. He was the game's leading scorer, finishing a perfect 5-5 from beyond the arc and 12-15 from the free throw line.
When Gibson broke out with a 21-point performance in Game 4, we shook our heads and said, "well, that won't happen again." Not only did it happen, he almost matched Game 4's performance in the final quarter alone. The Pistons are allegedly built for defense, but they couldn't stop a rookie (and a former second-round pick, at that) from torching everything they worked for in the past 12 months.
But this is old news -- the game ended over 24 hours ago as I write this. Loyal readers of the site have already digested the loss, moving on to intelligent conversation about the team's future within minutes of the final buzzer.
Me? I spent most of today reeling in a hangover-like stupor, avoiding the keyboard to delay the inevitable: writing my last game recap of the season. And while I'm embarrassed to admit it, I should reveal something: I didn't get to watch most of the game. I attended a friend's wedding, and in my haste to get out the door I forgot to set the DVR. In a panic, I called a friend in time for him to record it for me, but knowing what I know now, I'm not excited to head over and watch my favorite team figuratively (and literally -- poor C-Webb) get kicked in the nuts.
I did receive a couple of encouraging text messages from Natalie during the game, but by the time I was able to sneak away and find a TV to watch the final seven minutes of the fourth, the game was all but officially over. Maybe I'll watch it in it's entirety at some point, but at the moment, I can't think of anything I'd like to see less right about now -- well, aside from House of Payne, that is.
Before I tackle some of the big picture "what the hell do we do now?" questions banging around my head, I'm going to close with some final thoughts about the series and the game:
- Do the Cavs officially have the worst arena maintenance staff in the league or what? From crap falling from the ceiling earlier in the series to a 21-minute delay trying (and failing) to fix faulty 24-second clocks, heads should roll at the Q.
- Not only did the Cavs seem to want this more, I think the Cavs' fans did, too. No offense to you, of course -- you're reading an NBA blog, you're clearly among the hardest of the hard-core in Pistons fandom -- but check out the scene outside the arena after the win:
Can you imaging that happening anywhere in metro Detroit had the Pistons advanced to the Finals? Maybe once upon a time, but not now. We've been spoiled by success, for sure. I want to crack a "way to act like you've been there" joke about Cleveland's fans, but it wouldn't make sense: this will be the first Finals appearance ever by the Cavs.
- Not only did Rasheed Wallace get himself tossed (video) from the most important game of the season, he would have been unavailable for the next most important game of the season had the Pistons pulled off an improbable comeback and forced a Game 7 -- his two techs gave him seven for the postseason, enough to earn a one-game suspension. Jon Paul Morosi writes in the Detroit Free Press:
In case you're wondering, Wallace won't have to serve a one-game suspension for next year's playoffs -- that is, if the Pistons make the postseason.
Did anyone actually think Rasheed would be suspended for the first game of the 2008 playoffs? Of course not. Just like no one actually doubts if the Pistons will be back in the postseason next year. The real question is whether he will be suspended for the first game of the regular season. Too bad Morosi didn't investigate that instead of simply working to set up a snide remark.
In any case, shame on Rasheed for bailing on his team. Yes, the whistles were frustrating, but his reaction was over the top, though sadly, a microcosm for his entire career.
- Nazr Mohammed in the first quarter? Really? If Flip Saunders is going to wait until an elimination game to get crazy with his rotation, why not do something really drastic and dress Amir Johnson? What did he really think Nazr would do?
- Jason Maxiell played one minute? Really? Either this guy has extremely poor practice sessions or Saunders can't trust anyone younger than 29.
- Chauncey Billups: nine points, one assist. He was 3-7 from the field and 2-3 from the line. Five guys wearing Blue attempted more shots than he did. This couldn't have been the way he wanted to end his season ... and quite possibly, his tenure as a Piston.
- LeBron's 19 free-throw attempts matched the output by Detroit's entire starting lineup. As a team, the Cavs shot 46 free throws; Detroit, 27. This was the first time in the series the disparity was that bad, and perhaps not surprisingly, this was the first blowout in the series. Conspiracy theorists, rage on.
- Tayshaun Prince was 1-10 from the field, and 16-66 for the series. No need to bust out the abacus: that comes out to 24.2% for the series. Although ... his worst games coincided with LeBron's lowest scoring games. And despite his atrocious night from the field, he was "just" -3 on the night in the plus/minus column. You'd like him to contribute on both ends of the court, but unlike some guys, at least he (usually) did one or the other.
For a lot of you, I'm sure this might be the last time you think to visit this site until November. I hope that's not the case, though, as this summer should be very interesting. Guys like Chauncey Billups, Chris Webber, Antonio McDyess, Dale Davis and Flip Murray are either free agents or have the option to become one. Who comes back? Will Flip Saunders be fired? Will another team make restricted free agent Amir Johnson an offer too rich for the Pistons to match?
Last year, the Pistons didn't have a single first-round pick. This year, they have two in what is widely-regarded as the deepest NBA draft in years. They have a legitimate chance to pick up at least one immediate contributor to the rotation, if not two. Plus in July there's the Vegas Summer League, where we'll get a sneak peek at the draft picks as well as (hopefully) guys like Amir Johnson and Chieck Samb.
In many respects, losing on Saturday marked an end of an era for the Pistons, and this summer will determine whether they can re-build on the fly and remain among the league's elite contenders or if they'll slip a notch and play second-fiddle to the up-and-coming Cavs and Bulls for the next decade. I'll be spouting off on all of these developments this summer, so bookmark the site now (or subscribe to the RSS feed) and check back often.
Cavs 98, Pistons 82 box score [ESPN]
(Note to Cavs fans: you're in the Finals, congrats. Now go find a Cleveland blog to celebrate at. If you're confused why your snide comments aren't appearing here, read the bottom of this post and realize that I'm going to have a hair trigger for the next few days.)