for this game

James comes up short again as Pistons edge Cavaliers

May 25, 2007 - 5:10 AM AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- LeBron James took the ball to the basket this time, but it didn't matter.

Rasheed Wallace collected 16 points and 11 rebounds and Jason Maxiell added 15 points off the bench for the Detroit Pistons, who swallowed up James on his team's final possession for the second game in a row en route to a 79-76 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday.

Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups scored 13 points apiece for the Pistons, who took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven matchup with their second straight close victory.

"I thought it was like (the movie) 'Groundhog Day,'" Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "I thought it was almost the same game as before and the scoring ends up the same. I thought how the teams played, it was just a matter of who was going to make a few plays down the stretch."

James was criticized in Game One for his passive play down the stretch, taking just three shots in the fourth quarter. Trailing by two with 36 seconds left in that contest, the superstar forward drove on Pistons defensive specialist Tayshaun Prince before kicking to a wide-open Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who missed a jumper.

After an offensive rebound by Larry Hughes, James quickly drove past Prince - looking like he had a clear path to the basket - and whipped a pass to Donyell Marshall, who missed a 3-pointer from the right corner in the waning seconds of the 79-76 defeat.

"We knew (James) was going to be more aggressive attacking the basket, and we did that," Billups said. "We had guys helping and guys in position to be there and help. He still did a good job."

After Wallace nailed a fadeaway jumper to make it 77-76 with 24.3 seconds left, James was put in the same predicament with the game on the line. The superstar forward took the ball right at the smaller Hamilton, powered his way to the basket but not getting a foul called by the referee as he flailed in the lane.

"I believe there was some contact, but there's been a lot of contact throughout this series," James said. "We're a no-excuse team, you know, and we can't look at the last play as why we lost. We've just got to get better. But I do feel there was some contact."

Hughes then missed a short follow jumper and Anderson Varejao's tip with one second left bounced out. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had to be restrained by his assistant coaches and picked up a technical arguing the call near midcourt.

Though visibly upset, Brown would not blame the loss on the final play.

"The officials get paid a lot of money, and that's their job," Brown said. "If they don't see anything, they don't see anything. We're a no-excuse team. We've got to get ready for Game Three."

Both squads battled through each possession in the fourth quarter with bodies careening to the hardwood as the action began to resemble a contest on the gridiron. The rough play may have affected the Cavaliers, who committed five consecutive turnovers at one point in the fourth.

"I thought both teams played hard, and I think the whole series is going to be like this," Saunders said. "I don't think anyone is going to run away from either team. Right now, I think the first team to 80 is going to win because no one really seems to be able to get there right now."

The Pistons went on a 9-0 run during that span, capped by Hamilton's step-back jumper to make it 74-69 with 5:05 left. Wallace scored seven of the nine points during the spurt.

But Detroit could not create any separation with Cleveland guard Sasha Pavlovic eventually regaining the lead for Cleveland after Pistons forward Antonio McDyess goaltended his transition layup to make it 75-74.

Wallace and James then each split a pair of free throws as the Cavaliers held on to a one-point lead in the waning seconds before Wallace's clutch shot.

"Sheed has been, as I said since we started the playoffs, he's been extremely locked in, extremely motivated, and down the stretch, he wanted the ball in a lot of situations to make plays," Saunders said.

"Sheed was mad. I tell people all the time, when Sheed gets mad, he's the best in the world at his position," Hamilton said. "I just love when he gets all excited and jumping up and down and things like that. He demanded the ball tonight and he made plays."

James finished with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. But it was a different story early on for the superstar forward, who made a concerted effort to take the ball to the basket. In the first half, the superstar forward showed off his repertoire of dazzling dunks, slamming home several eye-popping jams in a crowd.

Detroit was a bit shorthanded in the first quarter after Wallace got into foul trouble and McDyess took an elbow to the face. However, Maxiell came in and provided the Pistons a huge lift.

"I just told Jason that this might have been his best game all year," Wallace said. "Even though he's had some pretty big games throughout the regular season, had a big game in Milwaukee, but I don't think the meaning of that game was like the one tonight.

"He showed up big tonight, a couple rebounds and blocks, was running the floor, got a couple offensive rebounds for dunks, got some open dunks."

The burly forward scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field, including two vicious slams - highlighted by a rousing follow jam over James which riled up the crowd at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

"(Maxiell) was big. He brings a lot of energy," Hamilton said. "He made plays for us, got a lot of putbacks, a lot of offensive rebounds, gave us a couple extra possessions. He was huge."

Trailing by four points after the opening quarter, the Cavaliers came out on fire in the second period, outscoring the Pistons, 34-18, in the stanza to take a 50-38 lead at halftime.

"You're fortunate you're up because I thought they played well," Saunders said. "They took control of the game as far as in the first half and got off to a great lead. But we have done two things - We've really defended the second half of both games, and (Thursday) we gave up 13 and 13 in the third and fourth quarter, and we put the onus on them to try to make plays."

James scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the opening half but did not do much after halftime.

"I played pretty good. I can play a lot better," James said. "At the end of the day, we didn't win. You know, we gave ourselves a chance to win the game, when it came down to the final possessions and we can't make the right plays, and we didn't get the stop that we needed to win the ballgame."

Pavlovic and Varejao scored 14 points apiece for the Cavaliers, who will host Game Three on Sunday.