LeBron huge in 4th again; Gibson and Gooden also shine
cavaliers 91, pistons 87
CLEVELAND — First, LeBron James shoved Richard Hamilton aside. Then he did the same to the Detroit Pistons.
With Hamilton trying to talk trash as James was about to shoot two free throws with four seconds to go and the Cavaliers up two, James pushed the Detroit guard aside and sank both to lift his team to a
91-87 victory Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“He tried to mess with me,” said James, who had 25 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists. “I’m more focused than I’ve ever been in my life.”
The best-of-seven series is now tied
2-2, with Game 5 set for Thursday at 8 p.m. at The Palace of Auburn Hills. A year ago, the Cavaliers stole a win in that game to put themselves one victory from winning the conference semifinal series, but were unable to close out at The Q and ended up losing in seven.
“Last year was based on us making the playoffs,” James said. “This year it’s based on us making the championship.”
James, whose team improved to 10-0 in the postseason when he scores at least 20 points, kept the Cavaliers in position to do that by scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter.
None were bigger than the two free throws he made to clinch the victory with Hamilton yapping in his ear, because they came with the Cavaliers stumbling badly as they approached the finish line.
Hamilton’s tactics were identical to what James successfully did to Washington’s Gilbert Arenas last year, as the Wizards point guard missed two crucial free throws in Cleveland’s series-deciding Game 6 victory.
“It didn’t work, though,” James said of Hamilton’s effort. “I invented it. Actually, (Chicago’s) Scottie Pippen invented it against (Utah’s) Karl Malone.”
The Mailman didn’t deliver for the Jazz that night, but a number of players did for the Cavaliers in Game 4.
Rookie guard Daniel Gibson, who made 12 of 12 free throws, had a career-high 21 points off the bench while playing 35 minutes in place of Larry Hughes, who tried to play but was limited to 17 minutes due to a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.
Drew Gooden, who made a series of baseline jumpers as Cleveland took control with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter, added 19 points and eight boards for the Cavaliers, who won despite a scoreless third period by James in their traditional awful start to the second half.
The Pistons had a number of chances to pull off what would have been a stunning victory, but they made numerous errors, two of them by normally reliable point guard Chauncey Billups, who had 18 of his 23 points in the first half.
With the Pistons down 87-83, Billups passed up a 3-pointer and drove, but then threw a horrible pass back outside that Gooden intercepted with 1:17 to go.
Moments later, with Detroit down 88-85, Big Shot Billups tried to float left and draw a foul on Sasha Pavlovic on a running, off-balance 3-point attempt in transition, but the officials didn’t bite.
The Pistons did get within 89-87 on a tip-in by Antonio McDyess with 4.7 seconds left, but James iced the game at the line.
“I definitely stepped up my free throw percentage,” said the small forward, who was 8-of-9 at the line.
Up 50-43 at halftime, the Cavaliers missed 10 of their first 11 shots to start the third period. They didn’t get their first point until Zydrunas Ilgauskas made a free throw at the seven-minute mark, with their first field goal coming with 6:30 to go in the quarter.
James did not have a point, rebound or assist for the first nine minutes of the period — he was 0-of-6 from the field in the quarter — but Gibson rescued the Cavaliers by scoring seven straight Cleveland points, including his own personal 6-0 run.
“We’re going to have to clean up that third quarter,” James said. “We’re good in the fourth quarter, but that third quarter is going to catch up to us sooner or later.”
Detroit led 67-65 going into the fourth and was still up 77-74 with eight minutes to go in the game, but the Cavaliers seized control behind James, Gooden and Gibson to take the lead for good.
Included in that spurt was a technical foul on Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace, who threw his headband while going to the bench for a timeout not because he was mad at the officials, but because Hamilton did not track down a loose ball he had tipped outside, leading to a layup for Pavlovic.
“It was a terrible call at that point of the game,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
Hamilton finished with 19 points for the Pistons, with Tayshaun Prince adding 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. McDyess had 12 points off the bench, but Wallace had just nine points and starting center Chris Webber had only two.
“Coming down the stretch, we can’t turn the ball over and expect to win the game,” Hamilton said.
The Cavaliers led by as many as 12 in the first half behind a huge performance from Gibson, who played more like a 10-year veteran than the 21-year-old he is. Gibson poured in 11 points in the second period, including nine with James resting on the bench.
“I just know talent,” said James, who has been touting Gibson since early in the regular season. “I told you guys about (Pavlovic) and I told you guys about Daniel. I should be a GM someday, I guess.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland at Detroit
WHAT: Eastern Conference final, Game 5
(Best-of-seven series is tied, 2-2)
WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.)
TV/RADIO: TNT, WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM