CLEVELAND (AP)—Detroit coach Michael Curry got home Saturday night after his team’s playoff loss and stayed up late watching a movie.
It was like one of those slasher genre films: predictable plot, unstoppable villain, sequel-spawning finish. No blood or gratuitous gore in this one, though, just bodies everywhere.
Pistons splayed all over the floor.
LeBron James was a hardwood horror for Detroit in Game 1.
James, in get-out-of-my-way overdrive from the outset, scored 38 points— mostly on shots from near range—and got all his teammates involved as the Cavaliers, and their highly evolved offense, rolled to a 102-84 win over the Pistons, who went back to the drawing board to devise a new plan for James in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“It’s going to take more than one person to stop LeBron,” Pistons guard Will Bynum said. “It’s going to take all five of us. We have to do what we have to do to stop this guy.”
James made it look easy, too easy, in the opener. Given a seam to drive, he blasted to the basket. Given room to shoot, he shot and finished 13-of-20 from the floor. In just under 41 minutes, he added eight rebounds, seven assists and didn’t commit a turnover despite facing a defense designed for him.
“LeBron’s very tough when he puts his mind to it,” Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said following a short practice on Sunday. “It’s pick your poison with him.”
Too often, the Pistons seemed out of sync defensively when James had the ball. In previous games, Detroit would overload one side of the floor to James, hoping to overwhelm him with numbers and take away his passing lanes. This time, the Pistons tried to trap him coming off screens and dropped others toward the basket.
Nothing worked well as he either beat his man or threaded a pass to an open teammate for an easy bucket. Cleveland shot 53 percent overall.
Curry was disappointed with the Pistons’ inability to keep James out of the foul lane, where he can simply outjump his defender and shoot.
“We didn’t make him take the shots that we wanted him to take,” Curry said. “He had eight shots in the paint and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line. We have to keep him out of the paint more, make him pass it to those guys (teammates) and try to make those guys make plays. I think we’ll do a much better job on him.”
It’s not as if the Pistons haven’t seen this before.
Surely, they remember his not-of-this-world, 48-point performance in Game 5 of the 2007 playoffs, when he scored Cleveland’s last 25 while taking on all five Pistons by himself. What Detroit, and the rest of the league are finding out, is that the Cavaliers are more than James.
“It’s tough trying to guard LeBron,” said Prince, who was slowed by a nagging lower back injury. “But now you have Mo and Delonte West who are capable of making big plays on their own. Their bigs are very active and they really play well off of each other.”
With Prince hurting, Curry indicated he may use either Hamilton or Stuckey to guard James and rely on others to help.
It’s not all about penning in James, though. Like their superstar, now all of 24, Cleveland’s offense has matured in recent years.
The Cavaliers are not the same team that managed just 61 points in a Game 7 loss in the 2006 postseason against Detroit. Far from it. They move the ball, use multiple offensive sets, run when the opportunity presents itself and play with a poise rarely seen before.
Saturday’s offensive output was the first time the Cavaliers have broken 100 points in 14 playoff games against the Pistons.
“Our offense is night and day,” James said. “A couple of years ago, we did a lot of standing. We relied on me sometimes just to dribble and get us into making a play for either myself or a teammate. The ball movement that we have and the way we rely on teammates to make plays is at an all-time high.”
Cleveland made just five turnovers—a franchise playoff-low—in Game 1.
Unlike past years, the Cavs didn’t allow the Pistons to slow the tempo to a comfortable crawl. When fast-break chances were there, James and his teammates ran. It’s something they always wanted to do, but coach Mike Brown usually kept his team on a short leash.
“Over the last three years we weren’t good on offense mainly because of me,” Brown said. “I wanted to establish an identity here and that was on defense. I wanted our guys to believe and smell and look like defenders. It is starting to evolve and it is starting to show how much work we have put it. We have talented guys and they’re able to score and they have a great understanding.”
The Pistons understand what they need to do. They may not be the Bad Boys of old, but they can still get nasty and play down-and-dirty defense at a high level.
They’d better get there quickly. King James seems in a hurry to dispatch them.
For Rasheed Wallace, there’s only one way to improve.
“Knuckling up,” the Pistons center said. “Bottom line. There are no tricks we’re going to add. Just straighten on up.”