CLEVELAND — During the course of Saturday afternoon’s practice, the Cavaliers called the Detroit Pistons everything from varsity players to bullies.
The references weren’t made because of the Pistons’ tough, physical style of play — which was also mentioned frequently — but more an indication of Detroit’s experience the last five years in the Eastern Conference finals.
“They’ve been here five years, this is our first time here,” Donyell Marshall said. “They hit us a couple times and we’re going to try and stop that. They are like the bullies. They are going to keep messing with you until you hit back.
“That’s what we’re going to have to do, we’re going to have to hit back.”
That seemed to be the general attitude among the players as they prepared for tonight’s Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We need to win,” LeBron James said. “This is a big game for us and we need to win it. There’s no if, ands or buts about it, we need to protect each other on the defensive end, execute a little bit better on the offensive end — but we need to win this game and it’s as simple as that.”
Even though the teams met last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals, most of the players agreed the Pistons still have the experience advantage because of their recent deeper trips into the postseason.
“The Detroit Pistons have been here before,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “Maybe if you’re in high school and you’re playing against your little brother in junior high for the first time, you know exactly when to hold them or when to grab them or how to set a screen or when exactly to cut — just little subtle things that don’t stick out a lot.
“They are very, very, very good at it because they’ve been here this late and they have experience at this point of the playoffs.”
That doesn’t mean the Cavs believe that last year’s series with the Pistons — which Detroit won in seven games — isn’t going to serve as motivation for tonight’s game. The Cavs were manhandled in the first two games in Detroit, then bounced back to win three straight last season.
“That’s the best thing that could have happened to us,” James said. “We’ve been in this position before so we know how to react to it. Being down 2-0 and never being in the position before, we wouldn’t know what to do. We should know what to do and how to capture Game 3.”
The Cavs also will now have the home-court advantage, something that they’ve used quite successfully this season.
“We’ve always been a good home team,” Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “We had a great regular season here and have lost only one playoff game at home so far. But it won’t be easy just because we’re home, we can’t think we can just show up and win the series because the first two were so close.
“The pressure is on us right now. They took care of their home-court advantage and we have to do the same here.”
The biggest home-court advantage the Cavs and their fans are hoping for is the ability to have some fouls called when James and his teammates drive the lane and receive some physical punishment. Everyone was in agreement that this series with the Pistons has been one of the toughest of the postseason.
“It definitely is, but it’s the Eastern Conference finals so it’s what you gotta expect,” Marshall said. “(The Pistons) knew what to expect right away. We didn’t know what to expect but I think we’re definitely prepared for it now.”
“Each round has gotten more and more intense and more physical,” Ilgauskas said. “In the last game, the last few minutes were like prison rules. It’s fun, that’s what it’s all about … guys playing hard and there’s not ticky-tack fouls. I like it.
“We are physical and I don’t think we get enough credit. We led the league in offensive rebounding. I don’t know how you can get offensive rebounds if you’re not going to be physical, because people aren’t going to just let you walk to their basket and get the rebound.”
The other thing that the Cavs are in agreement about is that tonight’s Game 3 is a must-win.
“That’s the way we’re going to approach it,” Marshall said. “We know we can’t go down 3-0 to these guys. They have a killer instinct and we have to go in there and fight.”
“Is it a must-win?” Brown said. “Game 1 was a must-win, Game 2 was a must-win and, yes, Game 3 is a must-win.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHERE: The Q
TV/RADIO: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM