AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Richard Hamilton slipped into his white Bentley luxury sedan, decked out in Jordan Brand gear from head to flip flops, and chatted for a couple minutes in the Detroit Pistons parking lot.
Hamilton was asked Thursday if he thought the Pistons could beat Cleveland in Game 3.
“We ain’t got a choice,” Hamilton said.
No, they don’t.
Detroit’s streak of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals will essentially be over if it can’t figure out a way to beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers at home on Friday night.
Pistons coach Mike Curry sounds like he expects the series to shift back to Cleveland.
“I fully believe that we’re going to take care of home court and win,” Curry said. “We’ll be sitting in the exact position—1-2—going into Game 4 as it was last year.”
The problem with that reasoning is, Curry is referring to last year’s first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers didn’t have an MVP candidate.
The top-seeded Cavs won the first two games of the first-round series by an average of 15 points and seem simply unstoppable.
Curry, though, said it’s too early to count out his team.
“I’m sure the obituary has been written for a while, but the date keeps having to be changed,” Curry said. “We will die eventually.”
Mercifully, the Pistons’ ugly season will likely end soon because they have no answers for James and his improved surrounding cast, and because Chauncey Billups is now starring for the Denver Nuggets.
James has continued to surpass unprecedented hype with his all-around game, which now includes tough defense, and general manager Danny Ferry has vastly improved the rest of the team.
“He’s better and they’re better and they’re used to playing with him, seeing all types of coverages,” Curry said. “We have to do a good job on him and at some points of the game, we just have to be able to defend him one on one without that guy feeling like he’s on an island by himself.”
Good luck with that.
James is not a 21-year-old player in the playoffs for the first time, as he was three years ago when the Pistons taught him a lesson.
“They trapped me, they went under screens, they went over screens,” James said on May 21, 2006, after being held to one second-half field goal in a 79-61 Game 7 loss to Detroit. “I’ve seen almost every defense that I could possibly see for the rest of my career in this series.”
James tried to rely on a teammate to beat Detroit in Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals, but Donyell Marshall bricked a wide-open shot in the final seconds.
“I go for the winning play,” James said after that loss. “The winning play when two guys come at you and a teammate is open is to give it up. It’s as simple as that.”
In the pivotal game of the series, James took the Pistons to school with one of his most spectacular performances. He scored 48 points—still his career playoff high—including the Cavs’ final 25 and 29 of their final 30 in a double-overtime victory that set them up to play for the NBA title.
In his first two wins against the Pistons this postseason, James is averaging 35.5 points—on 59 percent shooting—10.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
“If I was a betting guy, I would say the best guy who could stop him his himself,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “But other teams are capable of doing it, to a certain degree.”
If the Pistons force the ball out of James’ hands, he now has teammates talented enough to make them regret it.
“They have to play the percentages and take the ball out of (James’) hands to see if somebody else can beat them,” Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “That’s when it falls on us to make shots and make the right pass and make them pay so they get out of it.”
The Pistons used to make things tough on Cleveland, too, when Billups was their point guard and they had the ability and desire to play hard when needed.
Now Billups is gone, Allen Iverson is also an ex-Piston and $20-plus million of salary-cap space isn’t helping Detroit now.
Tayshaun Prince insists he doesn’t beat himself up, wondering what would’ve happened this year if Billups was still around.
“Obviously, we know we wouldn’t be an eight seed. We know we would be in a better position,” Prince said. “But it’s something we can’t worry about. We don’t have him. He’s not going to put that Pistons jersey on.”