By BRIAN WINDHORST
Akron Beacon Journal
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Sunday afternoon was painful and embarrassing for the Cavaliers, though it did have the redeeming quality of being relatively short.
They can only hope it wasn't a jagged harbinger of the series.
The Detroit Pistons slapped them 113-86 to gain a 1-0 Eastern Conference semifinal series lead, one they look uninterested in relinquishing.
When tip-off came, it had been roughly 36 hours since the Cavaliers touched down at Hopkins International Airport after their playoff victory over the Washington Wizards.
They breathed a heavy sigh and started to prepare for the ol' Dee-troit Basketball, as they refer to it in these parts, grinding physical half-court defense making for ugly, low-scoring affairs.
Instead they got the nuevo style, the sharp-shooting, high-scoring and gassing version. The Pistons averaged 107 points in their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, hinting at the offensive flair that they developed during the season. Sunday, they played one of their best offensive games in their extensive playoff history, and it meant curtains for the wine and gold.
The Pistons made 11 of their first 12 3-point attempts, and 15-of-22 in all, and shot 60 percent in the first three quarters.
Knowing that the Cavaliers would have some fatigue to deal with, the Pistons pressed the issue.
They used crisp passing, step-back jumpers and offensive
rebounds, always leaving their opponent looking a step slow.
"We came in extremely focused knowing the job at hand," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We knew a team that comes in on a high like that can go one of two ways: They run off that high or you can jump on them and make them inquisitive about what they're doing."
The Cavaliers were questioning everything during the second quarter. They shot 71 percent and scored 32 points, a veritable bevy against the usually tight Pistons defense. LeBron James scored 22 points in the first half on 9-of-14 shooting, with no sign of the famous Piston roughhousing.
Yet, instead of going to the locker room on a high, they were numb after the Pistons scored on 18-of-21 possessions, including 7-of-8 on 3-pointers. They set a franchise record with 43 points in the quarter, basically ending the game.
The Cavaliers shot 50 percent in the first half, committed just six turnovers, won the battle of the boards and scored more points in the paint. They were still behind by 21 points.
It wasn't even the All-Stars leading the charge. It was little-used backup Lindsey Hunter, who made 4-of-5 3-pointers, and Antonio McDyess, who made 5-of-6 shots.
"This team already has a lot of confidence, and when they go on runs like that, they tend to pounce on you," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "We're obviously going to have to do a better job of contesting those shots. We've got to do something about it when they hit four or five in a row."
After halftime, the Pistons decided to play a little defense and started denying James driving lanes by tilting their defense to his side. He became passive and didn't score in the third quarter, taking just two real shots. A third shot came on a heave at the end of the quarter, then he sat out the fourth.
"If they shoot like (that) from the 3-point line, they are going to sweep the whole playoffs and win the NBA championship," James said. "I was able to hit some tough shots in the first half. In the second half, the game was almost over."
Of course, the All-Stars did show up. Richard Hamilton had 20 points, Chauncey Billups had 14 points and 10 assists, and Ben Wallace had 11 rebounds and four blocks. Tayshaun Prince trumped everyone, including his opposite number, James, with a game-high 24 points.
All of it left the Cavaliers promising to fight another day, a refrain so commonly heard from the visitors' locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills there should be a sign on the wall.
"It's only one game; we've got to believe in ourselves," James said. "We made it to the second round for a reason."