Pistons Bloody Ilgauskas, Batter Cavs
Detroit 90, Cleveland 78
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Feb. 26 (Ticker) -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas knew early that it was going to be a long day for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ilgauskas needed five stitches to close a head wound caused by Rasheed Wallace's elbow 1:47 into the game and the Detroit Pistons went on to batter the Cavaliers, 90-78, in the front end of a home-and-home series between Central Division rivals.
"I think he (Rasheed) was frustrated because I caught him first with an elbow and then he hit me back," Ilgauskas said. "Mine wasn't intentional. His, I didn't see the replay."
Wallace acknowledged that his elbow was in retaliation.
"I'm not going to start a game by cracking a cat in the skull if I don't get elbowed first," Wallace said
When Ilgauskas returned late in the first quarter, he appeared timid and did not make a basket in the entire first half. LeBron James was the only Cavalier who did not appear intimidated by the Pistons, scoring 12 points in the half. The the rest of Cleveland's starters made just 1-of-11 shots for five points as the Pistons built a 44-33 lead at intermission.
Detroit opened the second half with a 9-2 run to take complete control. Wallace hit a jumper from the foul line, Tayshaun Prince connected on a 3-pointer and Chauncey Billups made a jumper and layup to increase the lead to 53-35.
The Pistons maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way and held their biggest lead at 88-67 after a basket by Maurice Evans with 2:09 left.
Reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace had a superb all-around game for Detroit, collecting 11 points, 19 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. One of those blocks came against James, who was often thwarted in his drives to the basket, and another was against Ilgauskas.
"They might as well take the Defensive Player of the Year trophy and send it," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "When you look at all the things he's doing as far as defensive rebounding, blocking shots, steals - he's been phenomenal."
Billups had 21 points and eight assists and Richard Hamilton added 18 and seven for the Pistons, who have won 12 straight home games.
"We play with a little extra incentive when we're here at our building," Billups said. "Our fans are the best fans in all of basketball and we want to give them a treat."
James had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and recently acquired Flip Murray scored 17 points. Ilgauskas scored 15 points, but his first basket came with 7:48 left in the third quarter after the Pistons had built an 18-point advantage.
"(The injury) hurt us quite a bit," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "Here's a guy that's our starting center and he needed to adjust to the flow of the game and I had to take him out and he missed the whole first quarter. Now that screws with our rotation a little bit and he didn't get going until late."
The teams meet again Monday in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers posted a 97-84 victory over the Pistons on Dec. 31. James scored 30 points in that game but had a more difficult time getting any easy baskets in the lane Sunday.
"Their defense is tough," James said. "It's probably the first or second-best defense in the league. You've got to really execute, move the ball side to side, and that's something we didn't do tonight."
Detroit had nine blocks and forced 20 turnovers. Cleveland shot just 33 percent in the first half and made just 13-of-23 free throws overall.
The Pistons (46-9) already have virtually sealed the division title with a 14 1/2-game lead over Cleveland (32-24), which is vying for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Hamilton scored 11 points in the first quarter, when Detroit raced to a 25-17 lead. Billups then took over in the second quarter with 11 points as the Pistons increased the advantage to 44-28 with 2:08 left in the half.