In some ways, ironically, it was the best game the Detroit Pistons played in the series. Sure, Chauncey Billups continued to struggle, and Rip Hamilton had an off night, and well, the Pistons lost, but other than those problems, it was the best effort in three games for the Pistons. Unfortunately, though, unlike the first two contests, where the Pistons made late fourth quarter runs and iced the game late, it was LeBron James scoring 12 fourth quarter points and getting his teammates involved to ice the Pistons, helping the Cavs to an 88-82 victory which makes the series 2-1 in favor of the Pistons.
The Pistons did a lot of things right in Sunday night's Game Three. They weathered an early Cleveland burst of energy and early lead, ending the first quarter tied at 22. They didn't let a late second quarter surge by Cleveland bother them, and they outplayed the Cavs in the third quarter (as they have all series), taking a one point lead into the final 12 minutes. They just didn't get the big stop or hit the big shot when they needed to. Rasheed Wallace did his best to hit a few late threes to get the Pistons back in it, and even Billups, who struggled all night, hit a few key baskets down the stretch. But a few costly turnovers, and some great shooting by LeBron James and rookie Daniel Gibson (who hit a killer three pointer late in the game) gave Cleveland second life in the series.
Wallace continued to play well for the Pistons, and Tayshaun Prince, who was 1-19 coming into Sunday night's game, shot 6-13 and scored 13 points. Even Flip Murray, coming off the bench, was strong, scoring 8 points, providing the team energy when they needed it most. And Chris Webber played his best game in recent memory, dominating the first quarter, and scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 28 minutes of work. Webber's problem, though, was foul trouble, which had he been able to stay out of, the end result may have been different.
The result may also have been different had LeBron James not scored significantly more then Rip Hamilton and Billups combined (32 for James; 20 for the Pistons backcourt). While LeBron was aggressive, and was key late in the game, Hamilton and Billups struggled, hitting only two field goals combined going into the fourth quarter. They were a combined 6-22 from the floor with 7 turnovers (Billups accounting for five more, putting him in double digits for the series). LeBron, on the other hand, added 9 rebounds and 9 assists to his 30+ point night, and hit the game clinching shot over Rip Hamilton with under thirty seconds to play. Hamilton defended him about as well as he could, but James hit the shot anyway. The kid's pretty good, you've got to give him that. The Cavs defense deserves credit too. They have had Billups out of rhythm the entire series. I did not give them enough credit for their defense coming into the series.
The Pistons won't win many games when Billups and Hamilton both are cold and are turning the ball over, and LeBron scores over 30 on the other side. And I was surprised Jason Maixell didn't see more playing time (only 3 minutes) after how well he played in Game Two, though, with Webber, Prince, Wallace, and McDyess all playing well, it was hard to find minutes for Maxiell tonight. Even with the loss, there are a lot of positives to take out of the game for the Pistons, including Prince shaking out of his shooting slump, and Webber finding his confidence too. Game Four Tuesday night is another toss-up, but a few adjustments by the Pistons, and hopefully, they can take a 3-1 lead. After all, Hamilton and Billups won't have two off games in a row, will they?