James leads Cavs to 91 – 87 win over Pistons

Published 3:03 pm Wednesday, May 30, 2007


AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) — The jumpers dropped. So did the layups and every one of his free throws, including two with four ticks left on the clock and one of the Detroit Pistons talking trash in his ear.

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LeBron James ignored Rip Hamilton’s taunts.

He wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stop him.

This was his fourth quarter. His time to shine.

“I live for the fourth quarter,” James said. “I told my teammates, ’Get me to the fourth and it’s close, and I’ll try to win the game.’ And I was able to do that.”

James scored 25 points — 13 in the fourth — and rookie Daniel Gibson added a season-high 21 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers tied up the Eastern Conference finals with a 91-87 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 4 Tuesday night.

Just as they did a year ago, when they dropped Games 1 and 2 of the conference semis in Detroit, the Cavaliers took care of business at home and will now try to win again in Game 5 on Thursday night at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Whether they succeed or not, the Cavs have earned themselves at least one more home game in one of their deepest runs through the postseason.

“We have a clean slate now,” said Drew Gooden, who added a series-high 19 points — seven in the fourth — for Cleveland. “We can go into the Palace and start the series over.”

The 21-year-old Gibson, filling in for injured Larry Hughes, made 12 of 12 free throws and carried the Cavs in the third. Eric Snow hit a crucial free throw in the final seconds as the Cavaliers moved within two victories of their first trip to the finals.

James was criticized for his fourth-quarter failures in Games 1 and 2 at Detroit, when he passed up the final shot one night and couldn’t make a last-second attempt the next game.

Obviously, this 22-year-old has learned from his mistakes.

In 12 magnificent minutes in the fourth, he went 4-of-6 from the field, 5-of-5 from the line and added four rebounds and three assists. He also played defense down the stretch on Chauncey Billups, who went 0-for-3 with three turnovers in the fourth.

“If we just get LeBron to the fourth,” Gibson said, “we know he’s going to do whatever it takes to win.”

The Cavaliers, who lost a seven-game series to Detroit last year, are making just their third visit to the conference finals and each time they’ve been tied 2-2 before losing in six games.

When he was drafted, James promised to bring the championship-starved city its first title since 1964, and he’s closing in on one quicker than anyone expected.

Billups scored 23 points, but only five after halftime, Hamilton 19 and Tayshaun Prince 15 for the Pistons, who needed last-second wins to go up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and are suddenly the team looking for answers.

Their frustration boiled over in the fourth when Rasheed Wallace was whistled for a technical during Cleveland’s 9-0 run.

In the final minutes, it was the more-experienced Pistons who couldn’t come up with the big play. With Detroit down 88-85, Wallace blocked a shot in the lane, but Billups rushed a 3-pointer that missed.

On Cleveland’s next possession, Snow got fouled by Hamilton following a scramble for a loose ball.

Snow’s free throw put the Cavaliers ahead by four before Antonio McDyess’ tip-in got the Pistons within 89-87 with 4.7 seconds left.

James was fouled, and Cleveland’s superstar, whose poor free-throw shooting all season has been one of his only flaws, calmly knocked down both foul shots to make it 91-87 with 4 seconds remaining.

As James was preparing to shoot, Hamilton walked up to him at the line and tried to rattle him with a few choice words — just as James had done to Washington’s Gilbert Arenas in the playoffs last season.

“I invented that,” James joked. “No, Scottie Pippen invented that with Karl Malone. He (Hamilton) tried to mess with me. But I’m more focused than I ever have been in my life.”

Wallace missed a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left, James hauled in his seventh rebound to go with 11 assists to seal one of the biggest wins in Cleveland’s 37-year history.

Wallace’s 14-foot jumper put the Pistons up 77-74 with 7:29 left, but the Cavs responded with six straight points, capped by Sasha Pavlovic’s run-out layup that forced the Pistons to call time.

As he stormed off the floor, Wallace was called for a technical — his fifth of these playoffs — by referee Joe Forte for throwing his headband in frustration as Cleveland fans sensed a change in momentum.

Pistons coach Flip Saunders didn’t believe Wallace deserved the technical, saying the forward was mad at Hamilton.

“I thought it was a terrible call,” Saunders said.

The Cavs got an emotional lift from Larry Hughes, who played 17 minutes despite a painful foot sprain. But it was Gibson who helped them tie up the tighter-than-tight series.

He came off the bench and scored 11 points in the second and another nine in the third — when James went scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting — as the Cavs built a 50-43 at the break.

“We couldn’t keep in front of him,” Saunders said. “Gibson played unbelievable.”

Notes: The Cavs are 10-0 in the postseason when James scores more than 20. … The Pistons are 18-0 when leading a series 2-0. … Celebrity rows included: TV actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Browns coach Romeo Crennel, Michigan State hoops coach Tom Izzo and talk show host Geraldo Rivera.