Then, he stopped lobbying for help from the officials and blew the Pistons down—and almost out of the playoffs.
James scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, lifting the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 79-68 victory Friday night over Detroit and a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
“Once he decided to say, `Hey, I’m not getting calls. I’m going to will this team to a win,’ our whole team changed,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “Watching him flip that switch, it was very exciting.
“I just get a rush thinking about it.”
The Pistons, whose collective heart was questioned by one of their players, played hard for three-plus quarters before being rendered helpless by James.
He had an alley-oop slam midway through the fourth quarter during an 18-2 run that started after the sixth tie of the game.
“Big-time players make plays, and that’s what he did,” Detroit coach Michael Curry said.
James had 11 rebounds and nine assists. He said he learned he was just short of a triple-double after looking at the stat sheet.
“When I got to the locker room, I blamed Mo Williams,” James joked.
James did get some help from his friends.
The Pistons will host Game 4 on Sunday, needing a surprising showing to extend the series.
Detroit has advanced to at least the Eastern Conference finals the previous six seasons—the longest such streak in the NBA since the Los Angeles Lakers’ run two decades ago—but now it’s an eighth-seeded team with virtually no chance to survive the first round.
“This is killing me,” Richard Hamilton said. “I can’t even lie.”
The 34-year-old Wallace scored just five points, looking past his prime, banged up and uninterested. Prince scored seven points in the first quarter and was held scoreless the rest of the game, laboring with a sore back.
“Tay is not going to say anything about his back,” Curry said. “But I could tell as the game went on he wasn’t moving as well.”
Hamilton had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Rodney Stuckey contributed 12 points and five assists.
Antonio McDyess, who had eight points and eight rebounds, lamented the fact that his team went through the motions when it lost the first two games of the series on the road by an average of 15 points.
Wallace and McDyess declined comment after the game.
The Pistons played with pride early, scoring the first eight points and refusing to go away when they fell behind by nine in the first half.
Detroit took turns with the lead in an ugly third quarter—scoring 16 points and giving up nine—but had no answer when James chose to take over the game in the fourth quarter.
“I just wanted to turn up the aggression in the fourth quarter,” he said.
James’ final points in the first half came on a sequence that made the Cavs laugh and the Pistons pout.
Ilgauskas got to a loose ball near Detroit’s free-throw line. The Pistons let him dribble up the court and make a jump pass in the lane to James as if the 7-foot-3, 260-pound center was nimble.
The Pistons also allowed Smith to perform like the player who merited being the No. 1 pick of the 1995 NBA draft.
Smith, whose previous career playoff high was 17 points, has scored 13 or more in a playoff game seven times—six against Detroit.
“So, what is it about the Pistons?” James asked Smith when the fact was relayed to them.
Smith signed with the Cavs last month after getting bought out his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It was a big signing, especially tonight,” Cavs general manager Danny Ferry said. “He’s exactly what we needed.”
The Pistons gave the Cavs permission to e-mail their season-ticket holders with a phone number to call if they wanted tickets to Game 3 or 4, as the team insisted it has done since 1984 with visiting teams during the playoffs. Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek said 140 tickets were sold to Cleveland fans, who responded to the e-mail. … Smith played for Detroit during the 2000-01 season. … Between the third and fourth quarters, an altercation led to one fan landing the hardest punch at The Palace since the infamous 2004 brawl in which the Indiana Pacers tussled with the Pistons and their fans. James and the Cavs were talking about the fight after the game.