November 26, 2014

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Hughes hole to fill

Guard doubtful for Game 4; Gibson may see more floor time

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers point guard Larry Hughes could not have played if Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals had been Monday.
Being on the floor at Quicken Loans Arena tonight at 8 o’clock against the Detroit Pistons doesn’t look too promising, either.
“Right now, it’s pretty slim,” Hughes said Monday afternoon. “I’m not ruling it out, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The oft-injured Hughes has a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot — he called the injury “extremely painful” — and is officially listed as doubtful for Game 4. He is taking anti-inflammatory medication, but the only real cure for the injury, which occurred when the 6-foot-5, 184-pounder drove and scored late in the first period, is rest.
The other alternative is playing through the pain and resting when the playoffs are over, but the 28-year-old said that would not have been possible Monday. In fact, Hughes returned and played the first seven minutes of the second half Sunday, but was limping badly before being pulled from the game by coach Mike Brown.
“I’m starting to think May isn’t my month,” said Hughes, who missed Games 3 through 6 of the conference semifinals against Detroit last year when his younger brother died. “It’s tough. I just have to fight through it.”
There are several silver linings for the Cavs, who are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Not only has Hughes been struggling — he was 10-of-45 from the field over his last four games prior to going 2-of-2 in 22 minutes in Game 3 — but his backup, rookie Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, has been playing aggressively and with a lot of confidence.
The Cavs also can take some comfort in the fact they’ve played without Hughes before, as he missed 46 regular-season games in 2005-06 and 12 this season.
“It definitely hurts us if Larry’s not able to play as far as his experience and how we’ve been playing with him at point guard,” small forward LeBron James said. “At the same time, we’ve played without him before. We don’t like to, but guys are going to have to step up.”
Gibson had nine points in a career playoff-high 29 minutes off the bench in Game 3 — no other Cleveland reserve scored — and also played excellent defense, but it’s not a given that he’ll get the starting nod should Hughes be unable to play.
In fact, there’s a decent chance Brown will opt for experienced veteran Eric Snow, who played just 16 seconds in Game 2 and not at all in Game 3, in order to take pressure off Gibson and keep his bench rotation intact. Damon Jones should also see increased action.
“We’ll have guys who will be ready,” Brown said.
Gibson certainly was Sunday, as he made a pair of 3-pointers and 3-of-4 free throws. He also got a key offensive rebound in the fourth quarter and stripped the ball from 6-foot-9 Detroit small forward Tayshaun Prince with 2:58 to go in the game, setting the stage for a James 3-pointer that put the Cavs up eight.
“I thought Gibson was huge for them,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “He got his hands on a lot of balls, hit some big threes early, made some free throws late and got a big offensive rebound.”
Of course, making a fairly unexpected contribution off the bench is a lot different than being counted on to produce because a teammate is injured, but Gibson appears ready for the challenge.
“Coach has been prepping me for this situation,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of minutes and started (16) games. It’s prepared me for this situation. If Larry can’t go, I feel like I can step in and take care of business.
“This is what you play for — the opportunity to play in big games. … I’m ready for it. I’m going to go out there and continue to do the things I’m capable of doing.”
It won’t be easy for Gibson, especially since the Pistons will likely try to get struggling point guard Chauncey Billups to be more aggressive offensively. But in Game 3, at least, the rookie was up to the challenge.
“He’s a strong dude, and that’s an understatement,” Gibson said of Billups. “I just try to play him tough. … I feel like every shot he takes is going to go in, he’s that great of a player.”
Gibson, drafted in the second round (42nd overall) after spending just two seasons at Texas, feels the same way when he shoots. The 21-year-old was used mostly as a 3-point specialist during the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but he’s become much more aggressive in three games against the Pistons.
“He’s from Houston, Texas,” James said. “He has no fear.”
Brown noticed that trait right off the bat, but made the rookie sit and watch early in the season, mostly because he was prone to make mental mistakes at the defensive end. Gibson later took over the starting point guard duties, only to get hurt and have the team start winning when Hughes made the switch from shooting guard to point guard.
“The thing I saw in Daniel from Jump Street was that he was really poised,” Brown said. “His composure was off the charts.”
Gibson has managed to carry that confidence into the postseason, even though he was just 17-of-48 from the field (.354) prior to Game 3, including 12-of-32 on 3-pointers (.375). For that, the outgoing 6-foot-2, 190-pounder — Brown shrunk “the little fella” to 5-9 on Sunday and to 5-6 on Monday — credits James.
“At the beginning of the year, he told me was going to make me a great player,” Gibson said. “He’s done that. He’s been in my corner since Day 1.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

TONIGHT
WHO: Detroit at Cleveland
WHAT: Eastern Conference final, Game 4 (Pistons lead best-of-seven series, 2-1)
TIME: 8 o’clock
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena
TV/RADIO: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM