When the Eastern Conference Finals started last week I was in the managed expectations and perspective business. No matter what happened to the Cavs, it would benefit them, I said. Even in a conversation I had with general manager Danny Ferry a day after Game 2 and he was still down from the near miss, I was telling him what he already knew, that the early troubles would build the foundation for success in the future. He agreed through gritted teeth, but quickly pointed out he still felt his team could win this now. I was not sure it would be this immediate. What's happening now is still benefiting them a great deal, but now it surely seems they've got a real good chance to win this series.
Not just because they held serve at home, winning Game 4, to make it 2-2. But because they are continuing to take away the Pistons strengths game after game while LeBron James plays better and better. It is well known that it only takes one game to turn a playoff series and the Pistons have an excellent chance to re-grasp control in Game 5. But there were a lot of people, especially who reside in greater Detroit, who honestly thought this series would be a sweep. There was a general belief in some areas, though never here, that last year what happened was the more the Pistons fault and not the Cavs success. In other words, there wasn't respect. Well hear this, the Pistons are really trying and still not beating the Cavs right now.
More on the game...
--I was shocked Larry Hughes tried to play on the foot. I'm not sure if they could give him a strong pain killer or what. He told me he asked the Cavs doctors about a Cortisone shot but that it wouldn't help with this kind of injury. My guess is he had a handful of Advil and some adrenaline working. He wasn't able to do much and he was a total disaster after halftime, but him being out there enabled Daniel Gibson's minute load to be kept reasonable. Plus it was an emotional lift to his teammates. Emotion means a lot to the Cavs.
--By the end of training camp I thought the Cavs might have something in Gibson and I'm not saying I had some special knowledge or foresight. He'd already won over his new teammates and the coaches were very high on him by the end of October. Still, no one could've foreseen the way he's played over the last three games. I written a lot about him this year, including the interesting story of how he ended up in Cleveland. Here's what I can tell you about him, he stays and works extra on his shooting after every practice and every shootaround. He, Shannon Brown and Dwayne Jones all do it together. You can see the new facets in his game, especially some of his moves close to the basket.
--Maybe this had nothing to do with it, but Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace seemed not to have as much energy tonight after getting just one day off in between games. I know the less rest impacts Zydrunas Ilgauskas, so why not those fellow big guys? Anyway, the Cavs double-teamed Wallace a lot more tonight in the post. He did a good job of passing out of them, but he also wasn't as active as in the previous games.
--Before I write this I'm telling you I don't know if it is true, it is complete hearsay. That's why it's in a blog and not a story. But some PWK (people with knowledge) whispered to me tonight the Pistons are having some chemistry problems in the locker room right now. Again, I don't know the team and I don't know the locker room. I am just passing it on because it's from a reliable source. It is interesting, though, that Wallace got a technical foul for yelling at his own teammate tonight.
--There are people who want to know why Eric Snow and Damon Jones haven't played more this series. There is no problem with Mike Brown as far as I've been told. With as tough on defense as the Pistons are, Mike feels he simply can't afford to go for long stretches with Snow out there. It makes it too easy to load up on James because Detroit doesn't have to worry about Snow on offense. As for Damon, while he's played some good minutes on defense in the postseason, once he gets in the game the Pistons instantly attack him. Tonight they did and it worked. Same goes for Donyell Marshall. He had some big baskets tonight, but he simply couldn't handle Antonio McDyess.
--As I first wrote about back in March, the difference in the Cavs between this year and last year is they are actually much younger. In the fourth quarter tonight, there was 21-year-old Gibson, 22-year-old James, and 23-year-old Sasha Pavlovic out there making plays. While the Pistons have the experience advantage and have been together longer, you can see the Cavs core for years to come developing. Not to mention Drew Gooden is just 26, Anderson Varejao 24 and Larry Hughes 28. It is said in the NBA, you win with men. The Pistons have men, but the Cavs have young guys who are turning into men.
--Brown sort of called out Drew Gooden after Game 2, saying his production was inadequate for the minutes he was logging. Drew's come back with two big games. He isn't a consistent player, but he's learning to better control his emotions. While he's a descent pressure player because it doesn't bother him much, he was also susceptible to getting down on himself when he went through rough patches. Now he seems to weather storms better, part of growing up I guess. Tonight was a prime example, after he got hit with the technical with eight minutes left and yelled at by the bench and his teammates, he did not go into a shell. Instead, he played a great rest of the quarter. I believe that pick-and-roll with James will always be open for him, just as it is usually is for Z.