AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Should LeBron James have thrown that pass to Donyell Marshall? Or should he have attacked the basket?
Should LeBron have passed?
Because on a night with so many small surprises and subplots, the only thing anyone is going to remember about Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, won by Detroit 79-76, is this: With the game on the line, LeBron James didn't take the biggest shot. He let Marshall take it instead.
"Like I was telling Damon [Jones], it felt better than any of the six I hit in New Jersey," Marshall said afterward in the cramped visiting locker room, James standing only a few feet away trying to look indiscreet as he paid close attention to every answer Marshall gave. "That's what I was brought here for -- to make shots like that one," Marshall said.
Marshall couldn't have been any more wide open on the 3-point attempt from the right corner with 5.9 seconds left, so you can hardly fault James for getting him the ball. Right?
Well, maybe you can.
Because at the moment James threw that pass, he was driving to his left and seemed like he might have been able to get around Tayshaun Prince and power to the basket, although Richard Hamilton was closing hard from one side and Rasheed Wallace was coming in from the other.
It was an instant that called for a split-second decision, and James decided to give it up. And it's not like he gave it up to Scot Pollard. He gave it to a guy who nailed six 3s in the Cavs' previous game.
"I go for the winning play," James said. "If two guys come at you and your teammate is open, then give it up. Simple as that."
Actually, it's not that simple, LeBron. Not when the eyes and the weight of the world are on you, and not when people expect otherworldly things out of you even though you're only 22.
The Cavs actually expected the Pistons to commit a foul on the play, seeing that they had a foul to give. But as Detroit assistant coach Terry Porter told me on his way out of the arena, the Pistons knew not to foul the instant James put his head down and started to make his move, because on a night when James did not go to the foul line one single time, they knew he was due to get a call, and they didn't want to give Ken Mauer, Greg Willard or Steve Javie a reason to whistle one.
"The play wasn't designed for me to get the shot," Marshall said. "Me not having made a 3 all night, they probably didn't even know I was in the game."
"It looked like everybody collapsed because there was nobody near Donyell," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "I mean, he could have sat and had a cup of coffee before he even shot the basketball. LeBron trusts his teammates, his teammates trust him, and you've just got to step up and knock the shot down."
None of the Cavs seemed anywhere near crushed by the loss, and James was even bold enough to allow: "We're not satisfied, but we can look back and say, OK, we're OK with this loss tonight."
Funny way to look at it, but we're learning more and more with each passing season that LeBron doesn't take losses very hard. You'd imagine this time might be different, what with the Cavs failing to take advantage of Chauncey Billups' seven turnovers or an 18-11 edge in offensive rebounds or a 1-for-11 shooting night from Prince, but at least from his outward appearance, James took it in stride.
He and his teammates now have two full days to mull over the opportunity they let slip through their hands, and it'll be interesting to see how that affects their mind-set when they come out for the start of Game 2 on Thursday night.
This was a night when they were the more aggressive team, the more energetic team, the more active team. And despite James' 5-for-15 shooting night, they almost got a triple double out of him thanks to his 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Of course, that elusive 10th assist could have come on Marshall's 3 from the corner, or it could have come on an open jumper by Zydrunas Ilgauskas with 15.9 seconds left that also missed.
But again, we're talking about what might have been a game-winning assist from James, not a game-winning shot. It just sort of doesn't seem right, does it?
Well, that's why if there isn't a crowd at the water cooler right now, there will be one at some point during the day. After all, it ain't every night that the biggest superstar left in the NBA playoffs drives the lane with the ballgame on the line and then gives the ball up to a teammate.
Doesn't matter how open Marshall was, and it doesn't matter how many defenders were coming at him. It just didn't seem right, and it's an open debate as to whether it was.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
The Cavs watching the final seconds of Game 1 include, from left, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Scot Pollard and Ira Newble.
The Cavs lost Monday night and it didn't seem to bother them. The Pistons won and they left the Palace of Auburn Hills steaming.
What's the difference between playing in your fifth straight Eastern Conference finals and your first in 15 years? See these two divergent personas after Game 1.
The Cavs may say they're not "just happy to be here" and the Pistons may say they're not "looking past the Cavs," but human nature is human nature. Most telling in this circumstance was how the grinding, 79-76 Pistons win was received by the two sides.
The Cavs, a happy-go-lucky outfit that makes extreme attempts to avoid expectation and pressure, believe their near miss will be a foothold for better things to come. The Pistons, who almost never honestly give credit to an opponent even when they are beaten, believe they played a terrible game even in victory.
"I thought we played one of our worst games in a long time," said Tayshaun Prince.
"It was about the ugliest game I've seen us play," said Chauncey Billups.
"We dodged one, there's no question," coach Flip Saunders said.
Why? Because the Pistons know they couldn't play the same way against the San Antonio Spurs and get away with it like they did on Monday.
Then there's the Cavs, and especially star LeBron James. Not only was James satisfied with his decision to pass to teammate Donyell Marshall for the last shot, on a night when he was held to just 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but he was satisfied with the Cavs overall performance. And he wasn't alone.
"We definitely played pretty well," James said. "We always want to win the ballgame, but we always say if we play as hard as we did tonight for 48 minutes, we're not satisfied, but we can look back and say we're OK with this loss."
"In a perfect world we might have won by 10 or 12 points," Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "But, first game, we came out and gave ourselves a chance. I'm disappointed we lost, but we've got a lot of bullets left."
That is yet to be seen.
-- Brian Windhorst in Auburn Hills, Mich.
It is sometimes said that the hardest thing to do in sports is to repeat. History says that it is tougher to lose the championship game/series one year and return to win it the next year. Here's a look at the last team to win a championship game/series after losing in the previous season's finals:
NBA: 1989 Pistons (lost to Lakers in 1988, beat Lakers in 1989)
MLB: 1989 Athletics (lost to Dodgers in 1988, beat Giants in 1989)
NHL: 1984 Oilers (lost to Islanders in 1983, beat Islanders in 1984)
NFL: 1972 Dolphins (lost to Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, beat Redskins in Super Bowl VII) Repeats since then - 7: 1972-73 Dolphins, 1974-75 Steelers, 1978-79 Steelers, 1988-89 49ers, 1992-93 Cowboys, 1997-98 Broncos, 2003-04 Patriots.
Of the four teams that were the last to win the championship after losing it the previous season, three ended up repeating as champs. Only the 1990 A's didn't repeat, swept by the Reds in the World Series.
-- David Rose, ESPN Research
AP Photo/Duane Burleson
LeBron James' decision making was a pivotal part of a Game 1 loss to the Pistons.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
John Hollinger: Phoenix has the pieces to make a run a Garnett, yes ... but if Garnett isn't on the market, it doesn't really matter what you offer. And despite the obvious logic for Minnesota to trade him, he isn't on the market.
Brian (SF, CA): Is it a lock the Suns let either Marion or Amare Stoudemire go this offseason? How do they trade either salary without taking back nearly the same salary in a different player?
John Hollinger: You've hit the nail on the head -- somehow they have to dump a bunch of salary in the process of making the trade, or it really doesn't help them much. I don't know of many guys with nonguaranteed $10 million deals either, so it really limits Phoenix's ability to get under the tax.
John Hollinger: One other option is to trade with a team that's already under and just take a back a much smaller contract (presumably a rookie or second-year player). But there's only a few of them out there.
Sunday night, after I described Greg Oden's workout to a respected NBA general manager who stands a pretty good chance at getting the No. 1 pick in Tuesday's lottery, the GM had four words for me:
"I told you so."
He continued, "Oden is not just a big guy. He's a big guy with great athleticism and skill. It's what I've been telling you all year. This guy is a lock as the No. 1 pick.
"If Kevin Durant had broken his wrist and come back way early with a cast on his shooting hand, I don't think he would've dominated the Big 12.
"We haven't seen the real Greg Oden yet. What we've seen is 50 percent. That's enough to make him the No. 1 pick.
"If we saw it all, we'd laugh about the Durant comparisons. Don't get me wrong, Durant can play. He may be great. But I'm taking Greg Oden. My guess is every GM in the league will too once they see him up close."
As someone who was more impressed with Durant's college play, I hate to admit it, but the GM may be right. I still have questions about Oden's motor, and I still wonder whether he loves the game like Durant does. I don't know for sure if those skills he shows in workouts will show up in NBA games.
The Durant-Oden debate usually supposes that Durant has the bigger "upside" and Oden is the "safer" pick.
But after watching Oden on Sunday, I have to say that his upside may be bigger than that of anyone else in the draft.
So Reggie Miller thinks he and the TNT analysts could defeat the ESPN analysts? Has he taken a look at his team? If you compare the teams at their current playing ability ESPN NBA analysts get the edge because .... THEY'RE ALL IN SHAPE.
Magic Johnson seems well over his playing weight and Charles Barkley (aka "Chuck" STEAK) barely beat Dick Bavetta in a foot race. Below is a tale of the tape, you be the judge. Remember, this is as if they played tomorrow, not while in their primes.
-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research