AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Chauncey Billups has earned the nickname Mr. Big Shot.
In each of his five seasons with the Detroit Pistons, the sturdy point guard made a number of clutch shots late in games to help them at least reach the Eastern Conference finals.
The 2004 NBA finals MVP has a knack for making 3-pointers on the fastbreak or in halfcourt sets, dribbling and bumping his way into the lane for shots.
Billups missed all three of his shots in the fourth quarter and had only one assist to go with three turnovers in Cleveland’s series-evening 91-87 victory Tuesday.
He finished with 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting with two assists, five turnovers and nine rebounds. Good numbers but nothing came late.
“I made a couple bad plays, but that’s going to happen. I’m human,” Billups said Wednesday. “I know I spoiled y’all, not ever missing at the end of the game, but it’s going to happen. It’s no big deal.”
In the series, Billups is averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 assists and 5.5 turnovers. He scored about 20 points a game and contributed seven assists with just two turnovers a game in the first two rounds.
Billups shrugged off his recent struggles and those of his team, heading into Game 5 on Thursday night at home.
“I don’t see the situation as being that bad,” he said. “It’s 2-2, these are the Eastern Conference finals. We have three games left—two of them at our place.”
Game 6 is Saturday night in Cleveland and if Game 7, if necessary, will be Monday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
“For us to win the series, we have to win a game here,” Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said when the team arrived at their hotel in suburban Detroit.
The Cavs will likely improve their chances of at least winning a franchise-high three games in the conference finals if they figure what is—or isn’t—happening at halftime. Cleveland is averaging 14.5 points in the third quarter while Detroit is scoring nearly 22.
“That third quarter is going to catch up to us sooner or later and I don’t know what we’re going to do about it,” James said. “We’ll have to put our finger on it some way. But we got stops down the stretch and executed on the offensive end and made big shots and that’s what it’s about. “
James was 4-of-6 from the field and made all five of his free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and his teammates vindicated his decisions to defer.
“It’s not just a one-man show,” Billups said.
When James does decide to takeover, it is a pretty good show.
The 22-year-old—who has surpassed unprecedented hype—was questioned and criticized when he passed up a shot and missed one in the closing seconds of Games 1 and 2 to help Detroit escape with wins.
After averaging 14.5 points and making barely one-third of his shots in the first two games, James answered the hard-to-please crowd when the series shifted to Cleveland.
In Game 3, he scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. He had 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
James has made shots with a high degree of difficulty—like the fadeaway jumper from the left wing Tuesday night—that can’t be defended.
“You just contest and hope that it doesn’t go in,” Billups said. “There’s nothing you can really do about that, when he’s hitting shots like that. You just have to box out and hope it comes off the rim.”
In the last three postseasons Detroit, with four of the current starters, advanced in a series despite trailing 3-2.
The Pistons won at Cleveland in Game 6 of the conference semifinals last year, then returned home and won easily. They beat Miami in the last two games of the 2005 conference finals, including Game 7 on the road. They eliminated New Jersey in the conference semifinals three years ago, needing to win Game 6 on the road to set up Game 7 at home.
“They’ve been through everything and they’ve seen it all,” Ilgauskas said.
In each of those series, Detroit rallied because players such as Billups made game-winning shots and stops in the finals minutes.
“We raised the bar so high, especially in late-game-type situations, when we do make the wrong play it sticks out,” Billups said. “That’s good, though. It let us know what’s expected of us. It’s not a bad thing, that everybody is saying, `What’s going on? Why did we turn it over? Why did we miss this shot?’
“It’s a tribute to what we’ve been doing down the stretch for years.”