CLEVELAND (AP)—The throbbing pain in Larry Hughes’ left foot matched the ache in the pit of his stomach. The thought of missing another NBA playoff game was tough on Cleveland’s point guard.
Hughes, mired in a shooting slump during the postseason, will likely sit out Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit after he tore the plantar fascia in his left foot during the Cavaliers’ 88-82 win in Game 3.
Hughes, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter Sunday night, described his chances of playing in Tuesday’s game as “pretty slim” and “doubtful.”
“It’s a tear,” Hughes said Monday. “It’s not just sore. I haven’t been faced with something this painful. I can hardly put any pressure on it.”
The injury is personally difficult for Hughes, who missed four conference semifinal games against the Pistons in last year’s playoffs following the death of his younger brother, Justin. He wanted to make this postseason memorable for other reasons.
“I think this is a series that we can win,” he said, “so I definitely want to be a part of it.”
The Cavaliers, who trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, listed Hughes as doubtful on their official medical update and diagnosed Hughes’ injury as a strain of the left foot plantar fascia.
Hughes, though, said an MRI revealed a partial tear and that it should heal without surgery. He got hurt while planting for a layup, but said his foot has been bothering him for more than a month.
“There wasn’t any contact or anything like that,” he said. “I just probably turned the wrong way. It was hot, and I’ve never torn a muscle or anything like that before. So I knew when I did it that it wasn’t a normal tweak. It was something pretty serious.”
Hughes’ career has been slowed by an assortment of injuries. Last season, his first with the Cavs, he missed 45 games with a finger injury and then missed Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 against the Pistons after Justin died.
Last week, Hughes missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds of Game 2, and his shooting touch has been off for weeks. Ironically, he injured his foot on a layup that made him 2-for-2 and gave the Cavs an early five-point lead in Game 3.
“I’m starting to think that May isn’t my month,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s tough. I have to fight through it. I can’t blame anybody, blame anything. I have to see the challenge and take it on.
“That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
If Hughes can’t play, Cavs coach Mike Brown may slide Eric Snow back into his starting lineup. Snow didn’t play in Game 3 and has been in for only 17 minutes in the series, scoring one point.
It’s also possible Brown will start rookie Daniel Gibson. The second-round pick from Texas made several crucial plays at both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s victory and was the only Cleveland player other than LeBron James to stay in for the final 12 minutes.
James, who had 32 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, trusts Gibson and is confident he can fill in adequately for Hughes.
“Hopefully Larry is healthy enough to play, but if he’s not, one thing is that we’ve played without him,” James said. “We don’t like to, but we have done it, so it’s something that’s not new to us.”
The Pistons did all they could in their offense to exploit the size advantage, but whether he was down on the block with Prince or isolated on the wing against Billups, Gibson stood tall almost every time.
The confident 21-year-old also made two 3-pointers, blocked a shot and didn’t commit a turnover in 29 minutes.
“We’ve thrown him on the floor in tight ballgames during the playoffs, and he’s responded very well,” Brown said. “The biggest thing is keeping his composure. But he’s tough, he’s quick, he’ll stick his nose in, everybody knows he can shoot if you leave him open—it’s good.”
The Pistons feel the same way about Billups.
But Mr. Big Shot went only 4-of-14 from the field in Game 3 and had five turnovers, giving him 17 in the series.
“I’ve never been in (a rut) like this as far as turning the ball over,” he said. “My shot? Look, shooters shoot, your shot is going to be on and off.”
There was no panic as the Pistons practiced over at Cleveland State. Detroit, 18-0 in series it has led 2-0, lost three straight in last year’s semis to the Cavs so they’re aware how quickly things can turn.
But if Billups and Rip Hamilton (2-of-8) had only shot better, the Pistons feel they’d be up 3-0.
“We have two All-Stars that haven’t been playing like All-Stars,” said Billups, who isn’t worried about he and his backcourt mate’s funk. “Man, we’ve got Game 4 and we’ll see what happens. I’m not concerned at all.”