for this game

Gibson's 3-point daggers gives Cavaliers first-ever NBA Finals

Jun 3, 2007 - 6:51 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- The Cleveland Cavaliers did not need a superhuman effort from LeBron James, because they got one from rookie Daniel Gibson.

Gibson scored a season-high 31 points and fueled a second-half surge as the Cavaliers locked up their first trip to the NBA Finals with a 98-82 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night.

James had 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 11 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in its 37-year history.

"This is big for Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas)," James said. "This is big for the franchise, big for the city of Cleveland and big for Ohio. It doesn't get much better than this."

The Cavaliers, who will play the San Antonio Spurs in Game One on Thursday, have a chance to win a major championship for the city for the first time since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs," said Ilgauskas, who reached his first finals in 11 seasons. "It's a feeling I've never experienced in my life. We know we're not done yet. This is great, and it's fun, but we need four more wins to get the big one."

Cleveland is just the third team all-time to reach the NBA Finals after dropping the first two games of a conference final.

"We went down 0-2 and nobody gave us a chance," Cavaliers reserve guard Damon Jones said. "Our fans got us over the hump in Game Three and we got a little momentum, and then we just rolled on from there."

With the Pistons defense smothering James every time he touched the ball Saturday, Gibson, a baby-faced assassin from Texas took charge. With Detroit leading, 63-62, Gibson scored Cleveland's next 11 points, including three 3-pointers, to give the Cavaliers a 73-67 lead with 10:45 left.

"I told Daniel before the game, I said, 'I believe Detroit is going to double-team me, triple-team me before I cross halfcourt, so get that gun and get it locked and loaded and just shoot it, don't second guess yourself, just shoot it,'" James said. "And that's exactly what happened."

James then converted a three-point play off a fast-break layup and Gibson provided a 3-point dagger from the left wing to make it 79-67 with 9:42 left.

"Gibson had a phenomenal series for them," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "LeBron kills you one game and you want to not let him go totally off again. We had more people running at him, and Daniel then made every big shot."

The Pistons soon unraveled and Rasheed Wallace was ejected after picking up two technicals with 7:44 remaining and Gibson knocked down another 3-pointer from the left corner to extend the edge to 86-71 with 6:52 left.

"Rasheed was very frustrated with how the game was being called and he should have been," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said.

Gibson was 7-of-9 from the field, including 5-of-5 from 3-point range. Doing his best LeBron imitation, he scored 22 of the Cavs' 29 points during one stretch in the second half and was also 12-of-15 from the free-throw line.

"This game reminds me of my freshman year in high school in the state championship," James said. "What Gibson did tonight reminded me of our point guard, Drew Joyce, hitting six consecutive threes. He hit seven in a row and we won the state championship."

Gibson's performance came on the heels of Game Four, when the 21-year-old had his previous high of 21 points, making 12-of-12 from the charity stripe.

Even without a fantastic performance by James, who shot just 3-of-11, the Cavaliers finished off the Pistons in six games after being in a similar situation last year. However, in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, Cleveland had won three straight to take a 3-2 series lead before dropping Game Six here and losing Game Seven in Detroit.

"I told everybody in this locker room I'm tired of losing to the Pistons," Cavaliers forward Drew Gooden said. "They were so concerned about LeBron, (Daniel) kept knocking down shots. He was huge."

On Thursday, James had one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history, scoring a playoff-high 48 points, including his team's last 25, in the 109-107 double-overtime win. The winning basket came when the three-time All-Star penetrated down the lane and scooped in a layup with 2.2 seconds to play.

"There is no way we would be here in the Eastern Conference Finals or winning the conference finals if it was a one-man show," James said. "It's never happened in NBA history where a team has one guy and he does it all. My teammates are my family."

Richard Hamilton scored 29 points for the Pistons, who lost four in a row for the first time all season.

"Some of the key guys didn't play their best series," said Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who was 1-of-10 from the floor. "We played up and down. That was the case last year in the series, but when people were in slumps, other guys picked them up."

The Cavaliers finished the first quarter on a 12-2 run and shot 57 percent (9-of-16) for the period to take a 27-21 lead despite James having two points.

After the game was delayed 21 minutes before start the second quarter because of a scoreboard malfunction, Detroit responded by outscoring Cleveland, 25-19, to help them enter the locker room tied at 48-48 at halftime.