Billups talks tough on LeBron
CLEVELAND -- Chauncey Billups had an unfamiliar bounce to his step as he swaggered down the hallway after exiting the team bus this morning, his Detroit Tigers cap sitting at a cockeyed angle atop his still-spinning head.
The swagger wasn't limited to his appearance and demeanor, either. Once Billups got to talking, the words came out cocky, too.
Yes, LeBron James had torched the Pistons for 48 points in Game 5.
And yes, the pregame talk all through the day and all throughout this city Saturday had been about what a transcendent and epic performance James had given on Thursday.
But in the insular world of the Pistons' locker room, the talk had not been about how many points James scored, but of how he scored a few of his most important baskets. James was able to get to the rim and finish with resounding authority, especially on two dunks at the end of regulation, and a certain set of latter-day Bad Boys seemed to have come to the conclusion that a repeat performance -- at least of those dunks -- was not going to be in the forecast.
"That's never happened to us, and that won't happen again. That won't happen again," Billups vowed. "I won't say he can't get 40, but he won't get 40 like that again. Not on us. Trust me. Not like that."
The message was unmistakable: When LeBron attempts to go to the hole, he needs to meet stiffer resistance than what was put up in Game 5. And if that means giving a hard foul and testing the theory that James secretly loathes taking contact, so be it.
"He gets 40 on us fading away and all that, then tip your hat to him. But he won't get that kind of 40 again," Billups said.
Saturday morning also found Billups and the rest of the Pistons experiencing another of those déja vu moments that have sprung up from time to time in the playoffs over the past four years.
This will be the seventh time since 2003 that the Pistons have entered a Game 6 trailing a postseason series 3-2, and this will be the seventh time they entered that game fully expecting to emerge victorious, carrying a level of genuine confidence that historically has served them well.
It wasn't until last year's Eastern Conference finals that they lost a series 4-2.
In 2003, they trailed Orlando 3-1 but won Game 5 at home, Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home.
In 2004, they trailed the New Jersey Nets 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals before winning the next two, including a Game 6 victory at the Meadowlands.
In 2005, they trailed the Miami Heat 3-2 before winning Game 6 at home by 25 points and then closing out the series on the road, and they also trailed 3-2 against San Antonio in the finals before winning Game 6 on the road.
Last year, Miami won Game 6 to prevent Detroit from making a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance. But they got to the conference finals only because of what happened in the previous round against Cleveland, and yes, that too featured a comeback from a 3-2 deficit.
Last year's Game 6 in Cleveland came down to a tight final minute, and the Pistons were twice able to keep the Cavaliers from grabbing a defensive rebound in the final 1:04, allowing them to run 55 seconds off the clock. Billups and Rasheed Wallace missed free throws that would have given the Pistons a four-point lead, and when the Cavs rebounded Billups' miss with 10.1 seconds left, they did not call their final timeout.
Instead, James raced downcourt and drove hard to the basket, getting fouled when Ben Wallace gently hand-checked him just as LeBron was kicking the ball to a wide-open Flip Murray in the corner (remind anybody of this year's Game 1?) for what would have been a game-tying 3-point attempt. James then went to the line, made the first and missed the second intentionally, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas' tip-in attempt barely missed. The Pistons then went on to close out the Cavs in Game 7 back at the Palace, winning by 18 and holding Cleveland to just 61 points as James shot just 1-for-9 with no assists in the second half.
Saturday, the Pistons were expecting a repeat of last year's final result -- a momentum-swinging victory that would extend their playoff lives and give them another chance to come out of the East for the third time in four years.
They obviously have a higher regard for the Cavs than they did a year ago, and Thursday night's performance by James certainly got their attention, but to them Game 6 was going to come down to how they played -- not how the Cavs played.
About the only subtle difference was Billups' acknowledgement that the Pistons' spirits were being buoyed by the fact that all five of the previous games had been close throughout.
"In a few of these games we should have got beat by 17, 18 or 19, but they haven't been really able to pull away like that on us," Billups said. "So that's probably got something to do with us, and something to do with them, too. We're still in this series. Like I said, it we were getting beat by 17, 18, it'd be different. But we're right there."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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