CLEVELAND -- Three players were sprawled on the floor near center court after a mad scramble for a loose ball off a missed 3-pointer by LeBron James with 18.5 seconds left.
Still looking for a Billups rise
Billups stayed down, a sheepish grin finally crossing his face before he finally picked himself up.
"Rise Up" is the theme of this postseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers, so it seemed fitting that the one player who failed to rise up when it counted most, Billups, was the same player who stayed down the longest after that late scramble.
Although the responsibility for this Eastern Conference final Game 4 loss, 91-87, Tuesday is shared equally by everyone on the Pistons, the player who bore the brunt of the blame for the Pistons' failure to show any semblance of poise down the stretch was their leader, their No. 1.
When it counted most, Mr. Big Shot turned into Mr. Blunder.
Billups' first major mistake came with 1:15 remaining and Detroit trailing 87-83 when he got within eight feet of the basket and then turned and try to throw a pass to Rasheed Wallace back out by the 3-point line. Drew Gooden easily intercepted it.
"When Rip kicked it to me, I thought I had a shot for a minute, but they closed out quickly on me. So when I went to the rack, I saw [Antonio McDyess'] man coming over, and I thought Sheed was floating to the corner. And then once I got up and seen he wasn't floating, I tried to make a pass over Gooden, like a bail out, and he made a good play on it," Billups said.
Gooden was immediately fouled and made one of two at the line, upping the lead to five, but Hamilton came back and hit a jumper, and Wallace then blocked Gooden's shot underneath, giving the Pistons the ball back with a chance to cut their deficit to one -- or to tie it with a 3.
That's when Billups Blunder No. 2 happened.
Billups dribbled up court, and when he got to the 3-point line he jumped to his left and attempted a horribly off-balance 3-pointer that missed badly.
"I got the ball, and I knew there was a man [Pavlovic] trailing me hard. So I tried to take one step in, and make him kind of run into me and run me over. He dodged me, but I thought he was coming out of control, and I thought I could get a 3 with an and-one, or three free throws. I've won a lot of games with that shot, it's a shot I believe in, and I wish it would have went but it didn't," Billups said.
Billups knew full well that he bore much of the blame for the Pistons' failure to rise up at the end of the fourth quarter as they've done so many times in the past. To his credit, he explained each of his gaffes in minute detail and shouldered the burden of being the fall guy.
He insisted afterward, as did several of his teammates, that the Pistons' will not let their current circumstances affect their level of confidence, which they all maintained remains high.
Maybe so, but the Cavs seem to have gotten into the Pistons' heads with their relentlessness and fearlessness, which manifested itself Tuesday night in several ways -- from Larry Hughes sucking it up and starting despite a painful left foot injury, to Gooden horse-collaring Wallace and nearly throwing him down, to rookie Daniel Gibson going to the foul line 12 times and sinking every single one of them like he was the world's steadiest veteran.
"Both teams always respected each other, and this is 16 times we've played each other in the past two years, so we know each other well. I think we've had respect for each other, and last year we gained it a little bit, we might have lost it a little in the regular season, and I don't know if we have it back yet, but we're slowly leaning toward getting it back," Cavs forward Donyell Marshall said.
James wrapped up the 91-87 victory by making a pair of free throws with 4.0 seconds left, tying the series 2-2 heading into Game 5 back in Auburn Hills, Mich. on Thursday night.
It'd be easy to say the Cavs' have the Pistons' attention at this point, but that wouldn't really do justice to how well Cleveland has played throughout this nip-and-tuck series.
"They pretty much know what they're up against, and they know if they don't bring their A-game they don't have much of a chance. But they're doing that, they're bringing their A-game," Billups said, going on to add that he hasn't seen the Pistons' A-game since the clincher against Chicago in the second round a week and a half ago. "Our A-game and their A-game [are] really different, and hopefully ours is coming real soon."
It had better show up Thursday, or the Pistons will find themselves in the same situation they were in a year ago -- trailing 3-2 and needing to win a Game 6 on the road. Last year, they were barely able to get that win. This year, you get the feeling that if Cleveland has a chance to close out the series at home, they won't come up one rebound short as they did last May.
So again, that A-game from the Pistons had better show up soon. And Mr. Big Shot had better start playing with the same level of poise we've grown accustomed to seeing over the last half-decade.
If not, a new finalist may just Rise Up in the East.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace make a case to referee Dan Crawford during Tuesday's Game 4 in Cleveland.
The Ginobili factor will be particularly important in San Antonio's Game 5 close-out bid, since Utah has taken to collapsing its defense and making the Spurs beat them from the perimeter. While not consistently doubling Tim Duncan, the Jazz are more aggressively digging the post with Williams and Derek Fisher, its strong and sure-handed guards, and are collapsing interior defenders if Duncan brings it into the middle.
Similarly, they are playing under the pick-and-roll and are much quicker to collapse on Tony Parker should he get his shoulder inside on the drive. They also were more focused in their close-outs in Game 4, contesting shots and not allowing the Spurs to establish an easy offensive rhythm.
Assuming Utah does not alter much defensively, San Antonio will need to make shots from the perimeter -- or once again live at the line -- and Duncan and Parker will have to be the catalysts in generating these shots with sounds decisions and passing.
No bloody noses or suspensions this time around -- San Antonio proved itself the better team in the crucial Game 4, exhibiting poise, executing, and getting key contributions from key players when it mattered most. If this series has taught us anything, it's that Utah will not roll over just because of a bad quarter or a tough loss. We noted earlier that the mark of a series is not the final tally of games but rather the games themselves, and Utah has acquitted itself well. But with the Spurs seeming to come up with answers each step of the way, we just find it too tough to bet against them at home.
The second-ever Orlando predraft camp opens on Tuesday with more disappointed NBA executives on hand.
Last year's camp, you might remember, was widely regarded as a bust. A couple of first-rounders -- Jordan Farmar and Renaldo Balkman -- played in the camp. But overall the feeling among NBA GMs and scouts was that the talent level was pretty weak.
To improve the quality, the NBA changed the rules to require NBA teams to wait until after the camp to hold player workouts. The thinking was that the new rules would force the players to attend the camp and play.
It looks like that thinking was wrong.
The NBA released the list of participants to the camp Tuesday morning, and it isn't pretty.
Only one player ranked as a first-rounder in our Top 100, Ohio State's Daequan Cook, is attending the event. That's exactly on par with last year, when only Farmar was ranked in our top 30.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Anderson Varejao gives LeBron James a hug shortly before the Cavs won Game 4.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
CLEVELAND -- The joke within the Cavs' locker room is that Drew Gooden doesn't feel pressure. Not because he's got the old ice water in the veins or whatever cliché you'd like to assign. Rather, to put it blandly, it's his often blissfully aloof state that regulates him.
Which is why his maneuver with eight minutes left in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals was so impactful, not only on him but also on his teammates. Locked in a fourth-quarter battle with Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace, who is never afraid to stir the pot, Gooden was put on emotional tilt.
With eight minutes to play, Wallace slipped past him on the baseline and Gooden did everything but tackle him, drawing a technical foul for excessive force. Wallace's reaction was fierce, as expected, and so was Gooden's, as unexpected, as he had to be held back by teammates. The Pistons converted the free throw to take a four-point lead, but they seemed to come out losers in the scrape.
"I was just trying to compete with him," Gooden said. "He made a great move and got by me. I didn't want him to get the ball up so I took a hard foul on the ground and that's what happened."
That's not all that happened. Gooden was fired up, and his teammates, in a bit of a danger zone at that point in the game, siphoned off some of it. After the tech, the Cavs went off on an immediate 13-2 run that essentially captured the game for them. Gooden was a huge part of it. Running pick-and-rolls with LeBron James, he nailed three jumpers on his way to 19 points.
Then it was Wallace, who scored just two points in the fourth and had a personal series-low nine points in the game, who was flustered. He was slapped with a technical foul on his own after throwing his headband, angry at his own teammate, Richard Hamilton.
"When Drew gets emotional, he can be very good," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "From the technical on, we turned it up a notch."
-- Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal
One man in particular bore the brunt of [Utah fans'] venom: Steve Javie. Known far and wide as the league's most road-friendly ref, he indeed seemed to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt nearly every time his whistle blew. If I'm not mistaken, he also called all five technical fouls on the Jazz.
Let's step back here a second. Utah is an interesting place to play. The Jazz, as I've reported before, play a unique hand-to-hand combat style that led to their leading the league in both fouls and fouls against; no team puts more pressure on the officials.
If we're being perfectly honest here, I found Javie 's performance a bit over the top, and I'm wondering what the league will say to him about it when it reviews the tape in the coming days.
But sorry, Jazz fans ... I can't pin the loss on him. After all, it's a bit rich to blame a double-digit loss on the refs. Fact is, Utah didn't need Steve Javie to lose this game. They did more than enough damage all by themselves.
The Cavs are 10-0 in the postseason when James scores more than 20. Cleveland's 10 wins are its most in the playoffs.
• When Eric Snow didn't get into Game 3, it was the first time he hadn't played in a game because of a coach's decision since 1998 -- a span of 701 games.
• Celebrity rows included: TV actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Browns coach Romeo Crennel, Michigan State hoops coach Tom Izzo and talk show host Geraldo Rivera.
-- The Associated Press