LeBron scores Cavs’ final 25 points, carries team to within a win of finals
cavaliers 109, pistons 107, double over-time
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James was phenomenal, unbelievable, awesome, outstanding and tremendous Thursday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
No, he was better than that.
A lot better than that.
Give James a franchise playoff-record 48 points, not to mention nine rebounds and seven assists in 50 of the most memorable minutes in NBA history.
More important than all that, give his Cavaliers the biggest win in franchise history, a
109-107 double-overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“This was the single biggest performance I’ve ever seen at this level, in this atmosphere, hands down,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said when asked about James’ performance.
The Cavaliers now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can earn their first NBA Finals appearance by winning Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
“We’ve got one to go, and that’s to make it to the finals,” James said.
In the biggest game of his young life, the 22-year-old James played undoubtedly his best game. In fact, it was the best pressure performance in franchise history and one of the best in league history. James scored Cleveland’s last 25 points over the final 12:49 and 29 of its last 30 over the final 17:48.
“The fact we won the game means more than anything,” James said. “If I did everything I did and we lost, it means nothing.”
James’ biggest hoop came with the score tied at 107. With the Pistons surprisingly slow to double-team him, especially given the way he was lighting up the scoreboard, he drove right and hit a little scoop-shot layup with 2.2 seconds left in the second OT.
The Pistons almost forced a third OT, but Chauncey Billups’ 10-footer in the lane bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“I just wanted to try and be aggressive,” James said. “I wanted to get the last shot, but I saw there was an opening and I wanted to attack it.
“We played so hard tonight, I didn’t want it to slip away.”
The Pistons had taken a 107-104 lead on a three-point play by Chris Webber, but James tied the game with a fadeaway 3-pointer from the left wing.
Detroit came up empty on two possessions and Cleveland one before James’ winning hoop.
“I feel terrible,” James said at the interview podium. “I’m banged up, I’m winded and I’m fatigued.”
The Akron native forgot to mention he was also a winner.
“He just did what he felt he needed to do for us to win the ballgame,” Brown said.
The Cavaliers took a four-point lead with 33.7 seconds to go in the first OT after James dribbled right, went around two defenders and sank a 22-foot jumper, but Detroit got back within two when Rasheed Wallace made two free throws with 30.0 seconds to go.
The Cavaliers used their last available timeout at that point, but all they got out of it was an air-balled 22-footer from James with 6.6 seconds left.
Eric Snow then fouled Billups with 3.1 ticks on the clock and “Big Shot,” an uncharacteristic 4-of-7 from the stripe to that point in the game, hit both to tie the score. Unable to move the ball to midcourt because they had no timeouts, the Cavaliers were able to get off only a desperation heave from Snow that was well off the mark.
The game was tied at 91 following an absolutely thrilling fourth quarter that featured a ton of pressure plays.
James threw down a monster dunk to put the Cavaliers up 89-88 with 31.3 seconds to go in regulation, only to have Billups come back with a 3-pointer over Snow to put Detroit up two with 22.9 seconds to play.
Electing to inbound from the baseline and go the length of the court following a timeout, James forced Lindsey Hunter to switch off him by using a pick, then drove right around Tayshaun Prince for another monster dunk, this one with 9.5 seconds left to tie the game.
Billups had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but missed a 3-pointer after pump-faking Snow off his feet.
The Cavaliers might have won the game prior to OT, but they made just one of their last five free throws, with James missing three in a row, meaning a strong case could be made that Detroit should have fouled the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder instead of giving up two dunks in the final 31.3 seconds.
“Why do I have to be surprised?” James said of being able to get to the hoop without being fouled. “I made a lot of good moves. It wasn’t like they were opening the lane and letting me in there.”
The Pistons were as good at the line as the Cavaliers were bad, hitting eight straight free throws in a 10-0 run that put them up 88-81 with 3:15 to play in the fourth. Hamilton had eight of the points in that run, most coming as a result of his five-inch height advantage over Daniel Gibson.
Just when it looked like the Cavaliers were dead, they came back with an 8-0 run of their own, seven of them by James, including a key 3-pointer that quieted the sellout crowd.
Down one at halftime — it was the first time the Cavaliers trailed at intermission in the series — it looked like Cleveland was going to get blown out at the start of the third period.
With the Cavaliers doing their traditional standing around and hoisting jump shots, the Pistons went on a quick 8-2 run to go up 61-53.
But once again, just when it looked like Detroit was taking over, Cleveland came right back. In fact, the Cavaliers scored the last five points of the period to forge a 70-70 tie, meaning they actually won the third quarter 19-18, another first in this grueling series.
Things got chippy late in the first quarter when Detroit’s Antonio McDyess clotheslined Anderson Varejao, who had cut down the lane to receive a James pass. James leaped over his fallen teammate in the key to try to get in McDyess’ face, but was quickly intercepted by 6-7, 260-pound Jason Maxiel.
When the dust cleared, McDyess was hit with a flagrant foul-penalty two, which meant an automatic ejection, and James received a technical. There’s a chance McDyess might also be suspended for Game 6, though the 11-year veteran’s reputation as a clean player could save him.
The more important immediate result was officials Ron Garretson, Bennett Salvatore and Bob Delaney, who were calling a lot of fouls to begin with, were even quicker to blow their whistles.
Detroit was up as many as seven points in the first period — its biggest lead of the series to that point — before settling for a 29-23 lead after one. Given that the Pistons had a 16-0 edge in points in the paint and a 7-0 advantage in second-chance points, the Cavaliers were lucky to be that close.
The Pistons, whose previous high quarter in the series was 24 points in the third period of Game 1, got up eight midway through the second period, but James took over soon after that. The small forward converted a three-point play, grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Varejao for a dunk and tipped in his own miss in a quick 7-0 run that gave the Cavaliers a 49-46 lead late in the first half.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas finished with 16 points and Gibson had 11. Cleveland was 28-of-39 from the line.
Hamilton had 26 for Detroit, Billups had 21, Webber had 20 and Wallace had 17. The Pistons were 35-of-43 at the stripe.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Detroit at Cleveland
WHAT: Game 6 (Cavs lead, 3-2)
WHEN: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena
TV/RADIO: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
LeBron James goes up for the winning basket in the second overtime of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich. James scored 48 points, including 29 of his team’s final 30 points, to give the Cavs a 3-2 series lead.