CLEVELAND – Rasheed Wallace stepped into the Detroit Pistons' training room and proceeded to slam the door shut with such force it rattled the ceiling tiles above, snowing dust and debris onto a couple of the Pistons' support staff.
He wasn't talking to any teammates, any coaches, any media. Rasheed was on the rampage and there wasn't anyone in that locker room dumb enough to bother him at that moment and in that mood.
Down the hall, Drew Gooden sat back, his feet in a couple buckets of ice, and smiled at it all.
If this series, and perhaps the fortunes of this Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, are going to have a turning point, it may just wind up being at 8:08 of the fourth quarter of Game 4, Detroit leading 74-71 and Wallace spinning toward the hoop for another easy basket.
That's when Gooden, from behind, wrapped both arms around 'Sheed's head and shoulders and sent him stumbling. Gooden wound up with a technical foul, but Wallace wound up with the worst of it – seemingly rattled right out of his game at the most critical of moments.
From that point on, Gooden outscored Wallace, perhaps the Pistons' best and most important offensive player, 7-2, and the Cavs stormed back to even the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece with a satisfying 91-87 victory.
Moreover, Wallace looked lost on the court. He threw his headband away, picked up his own tech, blew up at teammate Richard Hamilton and lost the fire that when properly directed makes him such a devastating crunch-time player.
Detroit needs him most in tight games, when his fallaway jumper is its most reliable offense and his 6-foot-11 frame makes things difficult on the defensive end.
But on Tuesday, after Gooden's big foul, Wallace didn't do much of anything but slam doors. Drew Gooden, of all people, had knocked Rasheed off his game.
"I think that's what a lot of people are saying," Gooden said after. "To me, I was just trying to give him a hard foul so he wouldn't go up. I ended up getting a tech and causing a lot of emotion."
If nothing else, that was something. Cleveland fought for this one like it was serious about finally getting past the Pistons, who eliminated the Cavaliers in seven games last year.
Down the stretch, it wasn't a bunch of guys waiting for LeBron James to do something special (although he did plenty of special things). It was Gooden (19 points, eight rebounds) taking over on both ends of the court and young Daniel Gibson (21 points) knocking down a huge three.
It was Cleveland forcing Detroit into silly turnovers and unforced errors. It was Gooden getting Wallace so incensed that he wound up with a dumb technical for fuming at Hamilton after a bad play. The refs, apparently, thought Wallace's ire was directed at them.
"His headband toss was more out of frustration at his teammate," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "That's why I thought it was a terrible call."
No matter who Wallace's anger was directed at, it was misplaced and ill-timed.
"We can't give up technicals, give them free points," Hamilton said. "We've got to be better in those tight situations."
The Cavs have spent too long standing in awe of Detroit and maybe now that is changing. They had a 3-2 series lead last year only to crumble to the experienced Pistons. They had open shots to win the first two games of this series only to gag the games away.
But maybe this is different now. Maybe this is a new day, a new deal.
"It is all new to us," Gooden said. "The Pistons have been (in the Eastern Conference finals) five times. This is our first time. We're learning.
"You get better playing someone better than you, more experienced. This is like the older brother type of games, you in the backyard playing. I think we are starting to figure out how to get past these guys."
There still is a lot of basketball to be played in this series, starting Thursday back in Auburn Hills. You never can count out the Pistons and you never can predict the way Rasheed Wallace will respond after nearly 48 hours of fuming about this loss.
He's capable of taking over the series himself. But he also can go the other way. His game is about emotion, always. It's mostly good, sometimes bad.
Tuesday was a flagrant fade and a slammed door, Wallace dragging down Detroit as the Cavaliers rose up.
His Game 5 response may wind up deciding the East finals. An emboldened Drew Gooden promised to be waiting for him.
- Drew Gooden
- Rasheed Wallace