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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
5:30 PM ET, 5/20/06

So close, yet so far away

Posted by Chris Ballard
And a city grieves. They grieve an opportunity lost. They grieve Flip Murray's strange football-spike near-rebound. They grieve the chance to spend their Friday night getting absolutely hammered while a cloud of depression decades in the making lifted from this rainy burgh. So now, judging by the scene at local bars when I walked back from the arena not long ago, they are instead getting hammered cursing that cloud, and the refs, and Chauncey Billups for hitting that crazy shot and -- you get the idea. In a time like this, we look to the sages of roundball for perspective. Sayeth Rasheed of Game 7 at the Palace on Sunday: "It's going to be bananas, yo."

Also, sayeth Rasheed on the Cavs tonight: "I know the only cat who wanted to shoot the ball was LeBron."

He is right on both counts.

Sitting courtside, you could sense it, a mix of hope, desperation and excitement. Mike Brown, not normally a screamer, was screaming. He was miming double teams, roaring at officials, stalking the sidelines. Drew Gooden was so amped that, in the first half, Donyell Marshall actually took him aside and said, "Calm down." LeBron James was, for lack of a better word, masterful. When he split Rasheed and Billups, then drove the lane and dunked on Ben Wallace in the third quarter, even the jaded journalists on press row were muttering astonished expletives under their breath.

The key to the game was offensive rebounding. The Pistons grabbed huge ones down the stretch. One could argue that Drew Gooden should have played more late, and one wouldn't have a bad point. One could also wonder why they Cavs didn't call a timeout on the last play. Afterward, James said he wasn't aware if the team even had one. To Mike Brown's credit, he was screaming for a timeout the whole time James dribbled upcourt.

On the final play, an intentionally missed free throw by James, the Cavs almost tipped it in. Though, when viewed again, it was Billups who got a hand on it. Billups after the game, sitting at his locker, shook his head. "I got a hand on it and, s--t, I almost made a basket for them, "he said. "I was like, nahhhh, not like this. Not like this!"

The ball bounced high, then off the rim. Not like this. Instead, to the Palace on Sunday.

Other notes:
-- This was the biggest sports night in Cleveland since, well, since the team won the lottery to get LeBron. Across from the Q, the Indians played at Jacobs Field. Two hours prior to game time, ticket hawkers milled outside the arena while a guy held up white "Witness" T-Shirts. "These are authentic," he assured potential customers who might have looked askance at the silksreen-esque quality. "Nike ran out of the black ones." Ah, capitalism in action.

-- Larry Hughes showed up for the game. He said he hadn't decided to make the trip until last night, then caught a nine o'clock flight. He spoke prior to the game to a media crowd five-deep, then came out and shot jumpers. One of the first to greet him was Rasheed Wallace, who was shooting at the other end of the court. Wallace walked down and gave him a hug, providing a temporary halt to the crowd's otherwise unencumbered booing of Sheed.

Hughes said he'd watched the all three games at home with his family, "on the edge of my seat." "They played well," he said, "We did everything we needed to do."

He said he would dress (he did) but didn't expect to play (he didn't). As for this Sunday, however, he said he expected to play. This will provided Mike Brown with an interesting dilemma: the team has played its best with Flip Murray in the lineup, in part because he goes straight to the basket off the swing pass when a double team comes. Working back in Hughes, effectively and diplomatically, will be a challenge.

Comments:

Posted: 10:16 PM   by Anonymous
if cavs play the defense they have played and detroit struggles as they have, the cavs still have a chance. i doubt it will happen.
Posted: 10:10 AM   by Anonymous
I'm from Cleveland, and we're going to win. It's that simple. Cleveland needs this and Mike Brown and Larry Hughes are the two keys to the game. Lebron will show up, as will Drew Gooden, but Brown needs to make those other 11 guys believe they can win their again.
Posted: 6:16 PM   by gdab55
unfortunately it is all over and the blasted Pistons have won. Lots of scope for the 'experts' to talk about the value of experience. It is sad that this team was able to get away with the 'on/off' switch approach. Regrettably they will only get their comeuppance in the finals. They will get through Miami too.
Posted: 7:38 PM   by Anonymous
Cavs lose. Sorry.
Posted: 10:02 PM   by Anonymous
the cavs put themselves in position to win game 6 but came up short. Game 7, the cavs just flat out lost.... this year no one expected them to get past the pistons, but next year, watch out 'sheed. These cavs are rapidly improving and WILL be a force to reckon with in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Posted: 11:00 PM   by Anonymous
Thank you Cavs. This series has awaken the Pistons that they now can get ready for the Heats. Without it, the Pistons might not get thru next round. Reason: Flip S. does not have experiences this late in the season.
Posted: 12:52 AM   by Jack C
I hate to say it but the one guy who could have changed this series was Carlos Boozer.
Posted: 1:02 PM   by Anonymous
It is too bad that Lebron James is such a good player with poor sportsmanship. Why couldn't he stay and shake hands with the Pistons at the end of the series like his fellow players?
Posted: 1:56 PM   by Anonymous
I was also mightily impressed when Lebron split Rasheed and Chauncey, then drove the lane and dunked on Ben Wallace in the third quarter...until I saw the replay and counted the 3-1/2 steps he took.

Aside from that, I was still impressed by Lebron's overall game, and have not seen anyone of that size with that kind of speed and basketball IQ when slicing through the lane since Magic Johnson.
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