Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cavs-Pistons Game 4 Preview

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop writes:

"Assuming Larry Hughes really won't be playing hard or long anytime soon, I think the Pistons just won this series -- without Hughes, I don't think there's any chance Chauncey Billups stays in his funk much longer. And getting Billups into a funk was one of the greatest accomplishments of the playoffs, for which Hughes deserves a ton of credit."

I really like Henry's blog (see this great series about Leandro Barbosa's quest to play in the NBA) but I have to disagree with him here. Larry was playing great defense on Billups, no question about it. But my view is that Billups was bothered more by the Cavs' trapping defense than by the individual defense of Hughes (though Hughes is a great defender). If that's the key to the series, then we should be able to accomplish it with Eric Snow (who has played great defense throughout the playoffs, though he's not great on offense) and, believe it or not, Daniel Gibson (who played great defense at the end of Game 3) with Z or Drew popping out to help.

Which raises the question: who should start at PG for the Cavs? Let's look through the options (unfortunately, Mike Bibby is not one of them.)


One of the best shutdown defenders in the game, Snow is a seasoned playoff veteran. He pretty much won Game 4 of the Nets series with his (and Larry's) D on Vince "Air Mails it In" Canada and he's played similarly well on that side of the floor. The Cavs are a team that's been winning by playing solid defense, and he provides lots of it.

BUT . . .

He's a total liability on offense. He can't shoot very well (though, mercifully, he doesn't try, unlike Larry) and does little more than bring the ball up. Granted, this is a good thing, since it means LeBron isn't running the "pound the ball into the floor" play that Cavs fans know and love (almost as much as the Browns' "Let's Use Lawrence Vickers" offense of old). But, he allows the Pistons to play 5 on 4, meaning they can always put at least two guys on LeBron.


The most explosive option for the spot, Gibson has really grown up in the playoffs. He hit a couple huge threes in the fourth quarter on Sunday and did an overall great job defending Billups and, believe it or not, Tayshaun Prince. (BTW, someone should do a DNA comparison of Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett to prove that they are aliens, given their ability to stand firm in the low block despite looking like they together don't outweigh Paris Hilton.) LeBron loves playing with him, he keeps the offense moving, and he's great in the open floor. He also stretches the defense with his three-point ability.

BUT . . .

He's not as seasoned as you'd like for your playoff PG. Plus, notwithstanding his great job on Billups and Prince, you have to figure that the Pistons have spent a day or two keying on ways to exploit his youthfulness. Flip Murray certainly did the second he came into Game 3, though that was in large part because Damon Jones was also on the floor. But, he's very beatable in transition, and he's not as playoff-tested as the Pistons are--plus he's going to get absolutely no calls going up against them.


The only serious candidates are LeBron James and Damon Jones. But as good as LeBron is with the ball in the open floor, the thought of him playing PG the whole game makes my head spin because it's just an invitation to run the "pounding the ball" play every damn time we go down the floor. Is it really any mystery at this point that he's at his best in transition and on the move, before the Pistons get a chance to set up against him? Wasn't it just unfair watching him in the low post given his obvious strength and quickness advantage over anyone (though, admittedly, his lack of an actual post game is troubling--more on this in the future). Why on earth would we let him bring the ball up the floor and risk coming out stale? And, as to Damon Jones, I was kidding when I said he's a serious candidate. He's a fine spot-up shooter, but as a PG? Come on.

At the end of the day, my recommended gameplan is as follows: Let Daniel Gibson start. At home, we'll have the crowd pulling for us, the building will be rocking, and as a result, any chance we can get to run out will be a boon. Gibson is better at facilitating transition and he's better on offense. He seems to be smart enough to play defense without getting quick fouls, and he seems at worst passable on the defensive side such that the benefit of him on offense is comparatively greater in relation to Snow. I do think Mike Brown should have Eric Snow sitting really close in case the Pistons start dominating on the wings, or in case they spring out to a quick lead. In that circumstance, rolling the dice with Snow and slowing the Pistons down a touch would be wise.

That said, what really matters in this game is which LeBron shows up. All Cleveland fans hope that the LeBron of Game 3, who really wanted it and came out ready to do anything for the win, will show up. If he does, I think we take this back to Detroit all square. If the other LeBron comes out--the one who doesn't feel like he has his back to the wall or anything to prove--then we're going to have an early end to our season and a long and hard offseason. Plus, I'll have to start writing about something else (hear that, Grady and Pronk? I may be on my way!!!)

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