It certainly wasn't pretty, but the Detroit Pistons eked out another victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, defeating then 79-76 to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit once again overcame the struggles of several of their regular contributors and a large second-half deficit in a victory that felt eerily similar to their Game 1 triumph. Rasheed Wallace hit a baseline fadeaway over LeBron James (after Anderson Varejao flopped to the ground trying to draw an offensive foul on Sheed) to give Detroit a 77-76 lead with 24.3 seconds left. LeBron then missed a bank shot from the lane with seven seconds left, and both Larry Hughes and Varejao missed follow-up attempts before the Pistons could control the ball and ice the game at the line with one second left. James and Cavs coach Mike Brown were livid over the officials' decision not to call a foul on Rip Hamilton during the play, but replays showed that the play was relatively clean.
Rasheed led the Pistons with 16 points (including 10 in the fourth quarter) on 7-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Jason Maxiell provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring 15 points, pulling down 6 boards and blocking 2 shots in only 22 minutes of playing time. After those two, it was tough to find a Piston who played a decent game on both ends of the court. Tayshaun Prince, while holding LeBron to only 19 points on the defensive end, was 0-8 and scored only 1 point as his shooting struggles continued. Chris Webber was aggressive on the offensive end, and was able to create a lot of decent looks for himself and his teammates, but only shot 4-13 from the field while finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Rip Hamilton had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, going 5-14 and finishing with 13 points. Chauncey Billups didn't look for his shot much, going 4-7 for 13 points, and turned the ball over 5 times. Antonio McDyess, after taking an early elbow from Zydrunas Ilgauskas that temporarily sidelined him (and paved the way for Maxiell to get in the game), scored only 4 points.
With most of the team struggling on the offensive end, Detroit delivered with suffocating defense in the second half. After falling behind 50-38 at halftime, the Pistons allowed only 26 second-half points to the Cavaliers, who had scored 34 in the second quarter alone. Detroit forced 15 turnovers and held Cleveland to 40% shooting. Most importantly, Detroit stymied the Cavs' young superstar when it mattered most, as Rip Hamilton locked down James and forced him into a tough, contested shot with the game on the line.
Detroit once again pulled out a victory late in a game in which they struggled for long stretches, and Cleveland has to feel like they missed a couple golden opportunities to go home with at least a split series. It was certainly not comforting, as a Pistons fan, to see both games hanging in the balance with Cleveland in possession, but some comfort can come from the fact that Detroit has a 2-0 lead without playing close to their potential. Hopefully, these two tight games will motivate Detroit to go all out and try to close the series out in Cleveland. Game 3 in Sunday night at 8:30.
Cue obligatory Jason Maxiell dunk highlight:
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)