Fourth-quarter comeback gives hope to Cleveland

Updated: May 9, 2006, 11:20 PM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Cleveland Cavaliers finally showed up in the second round of the NBA playoffs -- seven quarters too late.

Down by 22 points and getting destroyed for the second straight game by Detroit, the Cavaliers pulled within five late in the fourth quarter before losing 97-91 to the Pistons on Tuesday night.

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The comeback didn't end with a victory, but it may have provided some needed momentum for the Cavaliers as the best-of-seven series shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 beginning on Saturday.

"It showed that we can play with them," Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said of Cleveland's second-half comeback fueled by LeBron James, who scored 23 of his 30 points after halftime. "Now, we've got to play with them for the entire game."

For the first time in the series, it looks as if the Cavaliers may actually be able to compete with the bigger, badder Pistons, who were all smiles as they left the court at halftime leading 52-36.

Detroit didn't show any signs of slipping, as the Pistons were still up 87-70 on Rasheed Wallace's bucket with 8:30 left. That's when James began forcing his will on the game, hitting 3-pointers, passing inside for baskets and showing his brilliance with nearly every bounce of the ball.

With Detroit ahead by 12, James fed Larry Hughes for a basket, drained two free throws, followed in a rebound and completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 92-87 with 1:13 remaining.

That's where the comeback ended. But it may also prove to be the point in the series where the Cavs' confidence returned.

"In the second half, we figured out a level we need to play on to compete with this team in this building," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We just passed, cut and drove the basketball. And when somebody drove, we finished."

They couldn't finish their rally, but the Cavaliers came away feeling better about their chances of pushing this series beyond four games.

"It makes us feel better because we understand what we have to do," guard Damon Jones said. "We just have to play that way for 48 minutes going into Game 3. We are down 0-2. They did what they had to do in taking care of home court, and we have to go home and do the same."

By outscoring the Pistons 31-19 in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers went from losing by 27 in Game 1 to just six in Game 2.

A loss is a loss, but in the playoffs sometimes moral victories count for something.

"I'm proud of what our guys did in the second half," Brown said. "They didn't hang their heads. We've been like that the entire year, where we've been knocked down but bounce right back and keep attacking."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press