The Cavaliers are still down, but they are far from out of the Eastern Conference finals.
LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson made a myriad of clutch plays in the fourth quarter Sunday night, leading Cleveland to an 88-82 win over Detroit in
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.
It marked the Cavaliers’ first victory in the NBA’s final four since May 25, 1992 — and was unquestionably the biggest win of James’ four-year professional career.
“I could see if we just got over the hump, we could get one finally,” James said. “Me being the leader of this team, I have to be that guy that sparks us. I have to be that guy that does it on both ends of the floor.
“But at the same time, my teammates have to respond also with me, and I guess we did it.”
Did they ever. For the first time in the East finals, Cleveland matched the Pistons’ intensity from start to finish and refused to be bullied into submission.
James also rose to his highest level during this postseason with game-highs of 32 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, two steals and 46 minutes.
He also made the three biggest shots of the game, all of which came in the final 7:22.
“All I can say about LeBron is, wow, what an unbelievable player,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “He stepped up, put us on his shoulders and said, ‘Come along for the ride.’ We all hopped on, including me.”
As good as James was, though, the key to the victory was his supporting cast.
Ilgauskas, Gibson and Drew Gooden teamed with “The Chosen One” to score all 26 of Cleveland’s fourth-quarter points. Their confidence grew on every basket, as did the noise level inside Quicken Loans Arena.
As the clock wound down, the scene was nothing short of a celebration 15 years in the making. Strangers exchanged high-fives with one another in the stands. Some sitting courtside were lucky enough to get their hands slapped by a member of the Cavaliers.
“We knew it was gonna be electrifying tonight, first time (Northeast Ohio hosted an East finals game) since ’92,” James said. “I mean, they deserve it. We haven’t had a Cleveland sports team or Ohio sports team win in a long time, so they really deserve it.”
The Cavaliers also really deserved an evening like Sunday. After being unjustly ripped around the country for failing to win in Detroit earlier in the week, they came out and made a statement in front of the entire basketball world.
They can make an even bigger one by beating the Pistons in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
“That’s what it’s all about, buttoning down and playing as hard as you can,” Gibson said. “I loved it out there tonight. And when the crowd is like that, it’s fun to play for them. We look forward to doing it again.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.