AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – LeBron James was grounded at The Palace after lifting his game to rarified air in his previous visit.
James sprained his left index finger in the second quarter Wednesday night, and did not return, and the Detroit Pistons went on to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-74 Wednesday night.
The Pistons insisted the victory didn`t mean any less to them even though it came against a team missing its first, second and third option on offense.
“A win is a win,” said Richard Hamilton, who led Detroit with 18 points. “LeBron is a big part of their team, but they`ve still got five guys with an NBA jersey on the court.”
The Cavs said James` X-rays were negative, adding he would be evaluated again today.
“I think he`s day to day,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We`ll see how he is (today) before we worry about anything beyond that.”
James returned to Cleveland`s bench late in the third quarter, sporting a suit and turtleneck, with tape wrapped around his index and middle fingers on his non-shooting hand. Late in the half, ice was packed and wrapped briefly over his left hand.
James did not respond to a few questions as he walked to the team bus after the game carrying a pizza.
He appeared to be injured with 4:41 left in the first half, when Detroit center Nazr Mohammed fouled him.
“I didn`t hit him that hard, but it`s easy to sprain a finger,” Mohammed said. “I`m sure he`ll be OK.”
James made both free throws and stayed in the game.
He had 15 points and three assists in the first half, accounting for more than one-third of the Cavs` points, in a rematch of the Eastern Conference finals.
Cleveland was lost without him.
“I didn`t know anything was even wrong until I looked around at the start of the second half and he wasn`t there,” forward Drew Gooden said. “That was a shock and a surprise. It`s tough to not have him out there – he`s our leader – but we have to keep playing.
“Injuries happen, and you can`t just give up.”
James had been sensational recently, including Tuesday night in an overtime win over Boston, and entered the game averaging 31.7 points, 8.5 assists and eight rebounds a game this season.
Tayshaun Prince had 16 and Antonio McDyess added 14 for the Pistons, who led 48-43 at halftime after James played 20 minutes.
“They did whatever they wanted against us,” Brown said. “Offensively, they dominated the game and they played great defense. That`s a very good team, and they played a whale of a game.”
When the star was stuck on sidelines for the second half, the Cavs had no shot to come back.
The last time James was in suburban Detroit, he turned in one of the best playoff performances in NBA history.
He scored 48 points, including the final 25 for his team, to lead the Cavs to a win in Game 5 of the conference finals. He helped them win the next game at home to reach the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history.
Sasha Pavlovic scored 13 points and was the only Cleveland player other than James in double figures. Gooden had nine points and nine rebounds.
The Cavs, who played their fourth game in five days, traveled to Toronto to face the Raptors on Friday night.
“The schedule`s tough, but that happens,” Gooden said. “You have to play through it. You can`t not show up.”
Rasheed Wallace returned to Detroit`s lineup after a sore knee kept him out for two-plus games. He had nine points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Hamilton has been limited for much of the season with injury and illness as well as missing two games for the birth of his child.
“This is the best I`ve felt all year, but then I hyperextended my elbow in the fourth quarter,” Hamilton said. “We`ve got a couple days off, so I`m sure I`ll be all right.”
The Pistons were able to rest their regulars after outscoring Cleveland 29-16 in the third quarter, turning a close game into a rout while James was relegated to watching.
“Obviously he has a huge impact on both ends of the court, so it hurts us to lose him,” Brown said. “But Detroit just brought more energy than we did on both ends of the floor.”
* Detroit rookie Rodney Stuckey (left hand surgery) was evaluated Wednesday, and still isn`t cleared for contact in workouts.
* Cleveland was assessed with a technical in the fourth quarter for using a full timeout, instead of a 20-second one, late in the third.