Cavs' chances harmed by favorable foul call

Updated: May 20, 2006, 6:42 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN Insider

CLEVELAND -- If you were watching closely enough, you saw LeBron James frown when the officials sent him to the foul line with 1.4 seconds left.

And if you saw his postgame interview, after Cleveland's 84-82 loss Friday night in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. you heard James credit the Pistons for committing a "smart foul" -- one that would only give the Cavs a chance for two points instead of the three they needed.

What you didn't see was how Ben Wallace reacted when that comment was relayed to him, since there were no cameras around when I chased him down the hallway an hour after the game (like a Piston going after an offensive rebound) to tell Wallace what James had just said.

Before answering, Wallace's eyes nearly bulged out of his head.

"No, that wasn't no conscious decision," Wallace said incredulously. "Was it a foul? It wasn't no foul. I didn't think I was a foul, but if it was a foul, it gave them two shots and he had to miss the second one and get a tip, and they almost got it."

Indeed the Cavs almost did, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas' tip-in attempt hit high off the backboard and bounced heavily on the rim before falling away.

It was a heck of a game, one that left a raucous building in stunned silence when it ended. The Pistons again showed their resilience, just as they've done in the past two years when pushed to the brink, but they were far from perfect when they had chances to ice the game, and Wallace' sour grapes over the foul call was just their latest episode of griping a little too much and pointing the finger at someone other than themselves.

Because say what you want about that final foul that sent James to the line. If Rasheed Wallace or Chauncey Billups hadn't hiccupped from the line in the final minute when they had chances to ice it, nobody would even care about whether James was best served by getting the call that sent him to the line with 1.4 seconds left.

Everything that went down in the final minute was a topic for review afterward, everyone first wanting to know why the Cavaliers didn't call their final timeout after Billups missed the second of two free throws and James rebounded with 10.1 seconds left.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown explained that he wanted his team to go for a quick two points, then try for a steal and foul if they were unsuccessful. That way, the timeout could be saved for one final possession.

Brown was already having second thoughts by the time James had taken a couple dribbles upcourt, but the arena was too loud for his players to hear him screaming for a timeout. James got past a double team and drove the lane on Ben Wallace, who was whistled for a foul by official Bernie Fryer for placing a hand on James' lower back. It was merely a touch foul, making the Pistons livid, but it may have saved them the game because James was ready to pass to Flip Murray in the corner for what would have been a tying 3-point attempt.

"Of course I didn't want the foul, I got off a good pass to Flip, but for a smart team like they were, they committed a foul and gave up two points rather than three points, so it was a smart play by them," James said.

But it was a weak call, a ticky-tack call, really, at the game's most crucial moment. And I can't help but think it would have been nicer to see Murray shoot for the tie.

So now we get a Game 7 on Sunday with everything at stake, a chance to see if the Cavs can execute themselves into the next round rather than execute themselves out of a chance for victory as they did in the final 1:04 Friday night. Cleveland allowed the Pistons to outwork them for three offensive rebounds that took 55 seconds off the clock, negating Detroit's many yips during that same time frame.

When Sunday rolls around, the Pistons had better bring a better endgame. They were lucky to get out of here with a W, and they're far from finished with a team that's giving them a tougher test than almost anyone dreamed possible.

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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