May 28, 2007
CLEVELAND -- One bad game is a fluke. Two bad ones is a trend. Three in a row? It's a reality.
The Detroit Pistons' All-Star point guard, by his lofty standards, was once again awful in Sunday's 88-82 defeat to Cleveland. Billups committed five more turnovers (giving him 17 for the series) and shot 4-for-14 from the field. Despite making a couple of late buckets to keep his team close, he never was able to control the game as he normally does, looking frazzled on the court, missing shots and making poor decisions with the ball.
The normally unflappable Billups simply cannot find his comfort zone against the Cavaliers. The question is "Why?" What is it about Cleveland's defense that makes things so difficult for Billups?
Here's what I see:
1. The Cavaliers speed him up. Billups likes to play the game at a deliberate, controlled pace. But with the Cavs blitzing every screen and roll, they're forcing Billups to move more quickly than he likes. He has to get rid of the ball earlier than he wants, and as a result, he's not getting to his favorite spots on the floor.
2. Cleveland's size is bothering him. Billups is being guarded by either Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic or LeBron James most of the time. Each is at least 6-foot-5, athletic and long armed. They're all able to cut off passing angles that Billups normally has, and they're fast enough to stay in front of him. Perhaps most importantly, all three have the strength to deal with his back-down game, which is a big part of his repertoire. Then, on the screen and roll, long-armed, active bigs like Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao attack him with traps. The overall size and length of the Cavs' D is disrupting Billups' preferred slow tempo.
3. Surprisingly, Daniel Gibson is doing a good job on him. Gibson has played quite a bit the last two games because Cleveland has to have a shooter on the floor. The fear for the Cavaliers was that defensively Gibson would not be able to handle Billups' strength. But each time Billups has attempted to post up Gibson, the Cavs' rookie handled the matchup well and forced tough shots.
Billups is the head of the snake for Detroit. Even though the Pistons are incredibly balanced, he is the leader of the team. When you take him away, you have a much better chance of winning the game.
Cleveland blew two golden opportunities to win at the Palace, but it got back in the series with Sunday's Game 3 win. What I'd be worried about if I were a Pistons fan is the fact that Billups hasn't played well at all in the series, and he appears rattled. Can he get it going? Can he settle himself -- and his team -- down enough for Detroit to regain the momentum in Game 4 on Tuesday? We'll see.