CLEVELAND, May 15 (Ticker) --
The Cleveland Cavaliers opted to let
their defense do the talking.
With LeBron James
enduring a rough second half, Anderson Varejao
and the Cavaliers locked down defensively, smothering the
Detroit Pistons in a critical 74-72 victory to even their
Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.
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James scored just seven of his 22 points in the second half,
finishing 8-of-23 from the field and 5-of-10 from the line with
a game-high eight turnovers.
"I know I didn't play extremely well offensively, but on the
defensive end we got it done," said James, who did contribute
nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a pair of blocks.
"One thing that is helping us right now is that we don't feel
any pressure - the Pistons feel all the pressure."
Cleveland, which was playing its second straight game without
third-leading scorer Larry Hughes
- who is mourning the death of
his brother - had six other players score between six and 12
points and, most importantly, turned up the defense when it
"I love this grind-it-out, figure-it-out, bump here, bump there,
attack-on-both-ends style of basketball," Cavaliers coach MikeBrown
said. "In close games, we have found a way to tighten up
After allowing the Pistons to average 105.0 points while dropping
the first two games of the series, the Cavaliers have held the
best team in the East to 75.5 points in the past two victories.
"Defensively it has to be everyone," Cleveland guard Eric Snow
said. "We are more in tune with their sets and more in tune to
their personnel. We are making jump shooters put the ball on
the floor and we are shrinking the court. We are contesting
shots and trying to eliminate their easy baskets."
Detroit shot only 33 percent (25-of-75) in this one, including
an abysmal 4-of-18 in the fourth quarter. The Pistons made just
4-of-15 3-pointers and committed 14 turnovers against only 12
"We've gotten locked in so much in trying to attack their
mismatches that I think at times, some pick-and-roll situations,
that it's really bogged down our offense," said Pistons coach
, whose team lost back-to-back games for just the
third time this season.
The fourth-seeded Cavaliers held Detroit to just two points in
the final 2:50 with the help of two key defensive plays from
Varejao in the final 30 seconds.
With Cleveland holding a 73-72 lead with 29.6 seconds left, the
Brazilian forward stepped in and took a charge on Chauncey Billups
. After James missed a jumper on the other end, Varejao
altered Richard Hamilton
's runner in the lane with about five
seconds to go.
"I just tried to be in good position," Varejao said of the
charge on Billups. "I anticipated he was going to drive to the
"(Varejao) has about the quickest feet of any guy I
know that is 7-feet, or 6-10 and some hair," Brown joked.
Snow scored 12 points and Varejao added 10 and six rebounds for
the Cavaliers, who received a little extra motivation to win the
contest Sunday when Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace
a victory. However, Wallace was unable to back it up as he
battled a sprained ankle to score only seven points on 3-of-13
"(Wallace) just really could not move," Saunders said of the
enigmatic All-Star, who played only 33 ineffective minutes. "We
tried to give it to him while he was in there but basically he
couldn't get any for us, so we decided to go small and actually
played pretty well with a small lineup."
"I twisted it pretty bad at first, but I will be alright," said Wallace, who stuck to
his vow that Detroit would win the series. "I mean no way in
(heck) they are going to beat us in this series."
Hamilton led Detroit with 30 points on 11-of-25 shooting.
contributed 16 points and Billups added 13 but
shot just 3-of-10 from the field. The Pistons, who received
only seven points from their bench, will host Game 5 on
"I think a little bit that we've played more not to lose than we
played to win," Saunders said.
The teams jockeyed back and forth for most of the first half
with neither team leading by more than five points. The Pistons
shot only 34 percent (14-of-41) but entered intermission with a
38-36 lead behind 15 points from Hamilton. James scored 15
points to lead the Cavaliers, capping the opening 24 minutes
with a difficult stepback 3-pointer as the second-quarter buzzer
However, James would make only one more basket until he
converted a challenging lefthanded drive to the rim that gave
Cleveland a 72-70 lead with 2:18 remaining in the fourth
Hamilton answered with a pair of free throws to tie it before
James split two foul shots with 1:02 to play.
Detroit had a premium opportunity to regain the lead on its next
trip but Prince missed a jumper and Hamilton short-armed a
layup. The Pistons got back possession following a jump ball,
but once Billups beat Snow off the dribble, Varejao stepped in
and took the pivotal charge.
"The last two games we haven't gotten it done in the last five
minutes," Hamilton said. "We played our style of game. I
thought there were a couple questionable calls at the end of the
game, but it happens. We had the game right where we wanted
James capped the scoring with a free throw with 1.3 seconds to
go. Without a timeout left, the Pistons were unable to get a
shot off on their final chance as Prince's inbounds pass eluded
Billups in the backcourt.
After the game, Snow and James both insisted that Wallace's
comments did not fuel their performance. They both know that
talking a good game only matters if you back it up on the court.
"When someone makes a statement like that, you win the game,"
said Snow, who made 5-of-7 shots. "That is the best thing you
can do when someone makes a statement like that."
"You can't get caught up in Rasheed's comments," James added.
"We just have to go out and play our game and take care of
business. The first team to win on the opponent's court will
win the series."