cavaliers 98, pistons 82
LeBron, ‘Boobie’ lead the way as Cleveland ends 37-year drought
CLEVELAND — Because they got the “Boobie” prize, the Cavaliers now have a chance at the grand prize.
With the Detroit Pistons focusing on LeBron James,
21-year-old Daniel “Boobie” Gibson had the game of his young life Saturday night as the Cavaliers won the first Eastern Conference championship in franchise history with a 98-82 victory in Game 6 at raucous Quicken Loans Arena.
“If I could put into words what’s going through my mind right now, we’d be here another three hours,” James said. “This is special.”
With Usher singing the national anthem and thousands of fans watching outside the arena on big screens in the Gateway plaza, Gibson scored 24 of his career-high 31 points in the last 14:20 of the game to put Cleveland in the NBA Finals for the first time in its 37-year history.
Game 1 will be Thursday at 9 p.m. in San Antonio.
“Something had to go right for Cleveland sports,” James said. “Something had to go right.”
The Cavaliers were down 63-62 late in the third period, but the red-hot, unconscious, absolutely-on-fire Gibson proceeded to score 22 points during a 26-10 Cleveland run that put the game away.
“I told Daniel, ‘Get that gun. Get it locked and loaded. Don’t second-guess yourself. Just shoot it,’” James said.
The rookie definitely shot it. He hit 7 of 9 shots from the field, including 5-of-5 3-pointers, and 12-of-15 at the line on a night when James took just two shots in the first half and 11 in the game.
James still finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists — he made 14 of 19 free throws — but the Pistons, who watched the 22-year-old phenom explode for 48 points in Game 5, made it clear from the outset that someone else was going to have to beat them on this night.
Gibson was only too happy to oblige.
“When I started making shots, (James) told me to keep shooting it and not to worry about anything else,” the University of Texas product said.
Just four years removed from a 17-win season, the Cavaliers were the more seasoned team against the Pistons, who were in the conference finals for the fifth straight year.
Unlike 2006, when Cleveland could not close out its semifinal series with Detroit at home and then lost Game 7 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Cavaliers took care of business this time.
They hammered the Pistons 55-33 on the boards. They were aggressive, making 33 of 46 free throw attempts to Detroit’s 23-of-27. They were smarter, more poised and better.
“It was our time,” James said. “Detroit, we give all the respect in the world to that team. That team is awesome. They’re great, but we’re here now and we’ve still got business to do.”
Richard Hamilton led the Pistons with 29 points, but third-team All-NBA pick Chauncey Billups had just nine points, zero rebounds and one assist, while Tayshaun Prince was 1-of-6 from the field.
Power forward Rasheed Wallace, meanwhile, had a meltdown in the fourth quarter and got ejected after going after official Eddie F. Rush, meaning he couldn’t have played in Game 7 even if there had been one.
James, who was 3-of-11 from the field on the night, didn’t hit his first field goal until 8:02 was left in the third period, but he got enough help that it didn’t matter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 11 points and 12 rebounds; Larry Hughes had nine points, three boards and four assists; Sasha Pavlovic had eight points and Anderson Varejao had seven points and seven rebounds.
“There’s no way we would have won the Eastern Conference finals if this was a one-man team,” James said. “It’s never happened in NBA history.”
James missed his only two shots of the first half — he did make 9 of 11 free throws and add seven rebounds and five assists — but the game was still tied 48-48.
With James not even looking to score for the first 8½ minutes, the Cavaliers fell behind 6-0 and 19-15, but they closed the first period with a 12-2 run to go up 27-21.
James had just two points in the first period, but put up five rebounds and five assists as the Pistons elected to leave his teammates open from 3-point land.
Chris Webber, Hamilton and Pavlovic all got technicals with 3:29 to go in the first period, when the Cavaliers were clearly the more aggressive team. They attempted nine free throws and made six, while Detroit did not go to the line.
There was a 21-minute delay between the first and second quarters when the scoreboard and shot clock went out, which seemed to suck the life out of the building for the rest of the first half.
Donyell Marshall did hit a 3-pointer when play finally resumed to put the Cavaliers up nine, but the Pistons stormed right back with a 9-1 run to get within one.
Just when it looked like the long break was going to turn the second quarter into the Cavaliers’ traditionally terrible third quarter — both teams actually warmed up again before play resumed — they managed to pull things back together, setting the stage for a great finish that saw Cleveland reach the NBA finals for the first time.
“I’ve always believed in us from Day 1,” James said. “I wanted a championship. (I’ve wanted) one, two, three championships. Every time I brought it up, funny faces looked at me. I didn’t care. I kept going, ‘Championship,’ every single day. And we’ve made it happen. This is special.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland at San Antonio
WHAT: Game 1, NBA Finals
WHEN: Thursday, 9 p.m.
WHERE: The Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
The wait is over — here comes an NBA title shot for a city that hasn’t had a major pro sports title since 1964 as the Cavs face the San Antonio Spurs starting Thursday.