Game 3 A Dangerous Trap For Cavaliers

Cavaliers vs Pistons 2009 Playoffs

The only sure bet in life is that fools will always take the “sure” bet. After a solid win for the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their first round matchup with the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs followed that up with a thrashing of the Pistons for 3 quarters in Game 2 before making things interesting in the 4th quarter. Regardless of what happened in that 4th quarter, the result was a Cavaliers victory to seemingly give them a commanding death grip on this series.

Looks can be deceiving, though. The Cavaliers appear to be a sure bet to win this series at this point. Pistons fans are so sure of this that they have decided not to attend the game. The Pistons organization evidently believes this series is over as well, and have decided to email Cavaliers Season Ticket holders to invite them to purchase tickets for Games 3 and 4. All signs would seem to indicate that at this point, the series is over and the Pistons are just going through the motions waiting for the Cavaliers to put them out of their misery.  

That mindset, however, is precisely what always makes Game 3’s so dangerous for road favorites. It’s not too difficult to relate this to the 2006 Playoffs when the Cavs and Pistons faced off in the 2nd round. The Pistons came out and destroyed the Cavaliers by 27 points in Game 1, and then held on to take care of business in a much tighter Game 2. At that point, everyone seemed to believe that the 2-0 lead for the Pistons was too much for the Cavaliers to overcome. The Pistons probably believed it, too. Instead, the Cavaliers came out with more focus and purpose in Game 3 and wound up stealing 3 straight from the Pistons to take a 3-2 series lead going back to Cleveland.

Sure, the Pistons ended up righting their sinking ship and won games 6 and 7 to advance to the Conference Finals, but there’s a lesson to be learned from that series, and that’s what makes the events of the 4th quarter in Game 2 such an unfortunate occurrence for the Cavaliers.

There’s no question that the talent gap in 2006 was probably smaller than it is this year. In 2006 the Pistons won 64 games, similar to Cleveland this year, but the Cavs won 50 games that year, compared to just 39 wins for the Pistons this year. For the Cavaliers to lose this series, it would take a larger upset and a larger lapse of focus this year than in 2006. But just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

This Pistons team is a team full of Champions. It’s a team with plenty of talent, heart, focus, and determination to do some damage yet. They may have been sleep walking through the first 7 quarters of this series, but in that 4th quarter Tuesday night the Detroit Pistons saw a glimpse of how to compete with the Cavaliers, and now they are heading home and their confidence will be higher than its ever been in this series. Make no mistake about it, this Game 3 is an important one for the Cavaliers.

I have always felt that Game 3’s were the most pivotal game in any series. More so than even Game 1, no game in a series can change the complexion of it than Game 3. In a 1-1 series, Game 3 can establish control for one team or the other. In a 2-0 series, though, Game 3 can decide whether its going to be a short, easy series for the leading team, or if it the series is suddenly going to become a dog fight. Even last season when the Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks by 23 points in Game 1 and 19 points in Game 2, it was Game 3 that made it a series again. The Hawks won that game, built on their confidence, and before the Celtics knew what hit them, they were in a 7 game dogfight. Had Boston won Game 3, the series would have almost certainly been dramatically different.

We’ll learn a lot about the psyche and focus of the Cavaliers tonight in Detroit. What kind of series do the Cavaliers want this to be? The Cavaliers are 5 point favorites and you have to believe that if they play their game and don’t let the Pistons distract them from it that there’s no reason they shouldn’t win this game. But the playoffs are always about a lot more than what should or should not happen. That’s where the phrase “paper champions” comes from. The mental side of basketball is always present, but perhaps never is it more seriously tested than when a team goes on the road for a Game 3 when they are up 2-0 in the series. With a tough opponent in either Miami or Atlanta waiting in the wings in Round 2, the last thing the Cavaliers need to do is get caught up in a 6 or 7 game slugfest with a bitter divisional rival. It’s time for the Cavaliers to validate their NBA-best record and their status as an elite Championship contender. It’s time for them to step up and put away the Pistons now before this series gets out of control.

  • Tom

    Don’t let the past results fool you, the “heart” of this champion is playing for Denver.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny
  • http://mcbias.blogspot.com/ mcbias

    I was thinking of 2006 as well. To me, if the Cavs put down Detroit in this game, they truly have arrived. They’ve shown an ability to blow out bad teams this year that truly signaled they had reached the next level. Now they need to show they can put away inferior teams easily as the #1 seed.

  • Swig

    Big Ben had a lot to do with their heart too.

    Their bench went off against a non-standard second unit that shot horrendously. I agree this had trap potential, but I think this team has too much character, and even if they slack early, too much talent, to drop this game. I will be slightly disappointed if we don’t have a double digit lead by half and never look back.

  • Harv 21

    The far away looks in the eyes of both Rasheed and Rip make me suspect that if they get down early tonight, that’s it. Still waiting for some last typical, meaningless cheap shot by Rasheed – an elbow to Mo’s nose or something – but he’s not even jawing much. Pistons look simultaneously both too old and too young. They can’t win more than one game with that roster.

  • Chris M

    So, not to beat a dead horse, but don’t you think that Mike Brown learned not to pull his starters too soon? It seemed like that was what really killed the Cavs lead on Tuesday. Am I mistaken here?

  • B-bo

    I fully expect to see focus and fire from this Cavaliers team tonight–anything less is a massive letdown. Fans can shrug off the 4th quarter of Game 2 if they wish (“it was the deep end of our bench”, “we still won by double digits”, etc), but every player on this team should be insulted that such a huge lead was nearly squandered on their home floor. If this team really is championship-caliber, they should be out there to bury Detroit from the opening tip to the final horn. Great teams have that killer instinct–the kind that wasn’t shown at the end of the last game–and it needs to be on display this evening. Personally, I don’t totally disagree with T-Mac’s comments the other day about the Cavs being good enough to win it all, but that something about them leaves questions. A dominant win tonight would go a long way to dispelling those questions.

  • Clown Baby

    I’m sorry, but I’m not alarmed when a unit that doesn’t include 3 important players gives up a lead. Especially when the starters where able to come back in and get the lead back up to the high-teens so quickly. As a unit, maybe there 2nd stringers are better than the Cavs’ second unit. So what? Browns substitution patterns doesn’t include the removal and insertion of entire units.

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  • Tom

    We win this game tonight by 20. Book it.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    The only sure bet in life is that fools will always take the “sure” bet.

    I sure hope the Cavaliers players do not share the complacent feeling of the comments on this piece. The Pistons are not a team to be overlooked. I’m sure Celtics fans thought the same way going into Game 3 last year.

  • Mark

    I’m with RockKing on his first point. Plus using a phrase like “book it” in a playoff series is tempting fate a little too much for my liking.

    I agree with the fundamental point that this situation in a game 3 creates a trap game. However, let’s not endow the Piston’s with special powers. Billups is gone and the Piston’s second unit made a run on our third squad looking to Wally for a spark. And it took the starters a minute to go from what dance am I going to do mode to let’s close out this game. We fell off, Piston’s didn’t figure out anything.

    That is all.

  • Clown Baby

    The fact that Wallace hasn’t committed one dirty foul or received one technical leads me to believe that he doesn’t care….and I say as goes Wallace, so go the Pistons. It’s not to say that the others are capable of picking up his slack but it will be hard against this Cavs team.

  • S-Dub

    @Clown: I agree, they don’t really care. Sheed’ isn’t even involved in the offensive game because he knows he won’t play for them again after Sunday. Rip is wondering if they’ll trade him this offseason, same with Prince (who can come play for us if he wants). Cavs SHOULD fulfill their destiny and sweep this series.

  • B-bo

    Way to start off sloppy and disinterested. Did somebody wake Mo right before intros or something? Thank goodness for Z.

  • The Other Tim

    Are the dimensions of the court different at The Palace?
    Jeez, fellas take care of the ball.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jacob Rosen

    Take a look at this site for up to the minute win probabilities:

    http://wp.advancednflstats.com/nba/

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jacob Rosen

    Two points and seven turnovers combined for Mo Williams and Delonte West in that first half, after the two combined for 41 points in game 2.

    Despite that, the Cavaliers are up 7 at the break thanks to a 22-7 run after the Pistons had a nice start to the second quarter.

  • B-bo

    Weak first half, but at least we got the lead back. Disappointing to see the lack of focus and carelessness. Not at all what I expected from this team.

  • The Other Tim

    Permission to stop feeding Z for smooth misses and let LeBron take over.
    It’s Okay.

  • Kory

    2 points in 8 minutes

  • B-bo

    Yeah, but don’t worry, cuz that’s just the bench scrubs–once Mike Brown gets the starters in, we will be fi–oh, wait, nevermind. Pathetic all around.

  • DCBucks

    Absolutely pitiful 3rd quarter. Wally looks like he has cement shoes on. LeBron blocked twice by that stiff. Unbelievably bad. We’re down by 30 to any other team.

  • lbj’s uncle

    and lebron hushes the doubter to a commercial break with an alley-hoop dunk. it amazes me that people continue to doubt this team. sure they are going to struggle at times, but they always seem to figure it out.

  • B-bo

    “Struggle” doesn’t begin to accurately describe that embarrassment of a third quarter–Kwame Brown was owning us, for crying out loud. Nice to see the poise to come back and take it over (thank you, Joe Smith), but anyone who watched this game start to finish has to be at least a bit concerned by what they saw. Here’s hoping the whole team shows up to close things out Sunday afternoon.

  • phil

    LeBron’s halftime interview showed him to have his usual coach-like awareness of the day’s game. He doesn’t speak from a narrow, me-first perspective and, rather, identifies precise strengths and weaknesses in the team’s performances. (He also respectfully uses the questioner’s name, no matter who it is.) The fact that he is so articulate about the game is just another reason to admire all he brings to the team.

    There’s been a lot of chatter about who’s a better player, LeBron or Kobe; but as a Cavs fan, I wouldn’t want to see Kobe come to Cleveland for LeBron in a straight-up trade (speaking hypothetically). When you consider all LeBron brings to the team, it’s not even close.

    And let’s not give credence to Kenny Smith’s “argument,” which is that while LeBron is the MVP, Kobe is the better player. That makes LeBron the better player for his team and leaves Kobe to be the better player for whom or what? The cheerleaders?

  • DCBucks

    Kobe is the better rapist.

  • AMC

    I don’t think there’s any reason to be “concerned” about this game. Yes, they had a gawd awful 3rd quarter, but as LBJ said in the post-game, all teams are going to come across some adversity in the playoffs. As bad as that third quarter was, the Cavs defense stayed fundamentally strong, and they lost the quarter by only 7 points, leading to a tie in the 4th. The Joe Smith took over the game and before you knew it, Lebron is dunking alley-oops in transition, Z is draining a 3 from the corner, and the game is over.

    This was an important test for this team, and for the Cavs to get this win, on the road, taking Detroit’s best shot, and with Month and Delonte only scoring 4 points COMBINED – I’d say I’m pretty pleased.

    Sunday for the sweep!

  • AMC

    I don’t think there’s any reason to be “concerned” about this game. Yes, they had a gawd awful 3rd quarter, but as LBJ said in the post-game, all teams are going to come across some adversity in the playoffs. As bad as that third quarter was, the Cavs defense stayed fundamentally strong, and they lost the quarter by only 7 points, leading to a tie in the 4th. The Joe Smith took over the game and before you knew it, Lebron is dunking alley-oops in transition, Z is draining a 3 from the corner, and the game is over.

    This was an important test for this team, and for the Cavs to get this win, on the road, taking Detroit’s best shot, and with Mo and Delonte only scoring 4 points COMBINED – I’d say I’m pretty pleased.

    Sunday for the sweep!

  • B-bo

    Where can I get a pair of the rose-colored glasses?

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