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Monday, May 15, 2006
Cavs money in 'Guaran-Sheed' game

By Brian Windhorst
Special to ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- Turns out a "Gilbert-tee" trumps a "Guaran-Sheed. "

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert quietly promised his team would win hours before Game 4 with the Detroit Pistons Monday, an indirect response to one of Rasheed Wallace's loud promises of Pistons' victory.

Gilbert's family nicknamed the proclamations after the first four came true during the regular season. He remained perfect as the Cavs yet again beat the Pistons at their own game, 74-72.

Now the series that once looked like a formality has been quickly evened 2-2 as the Cavs successfully protected their home court.

Gilbert is no soothsayer and at this juncture really has no effect on outcomes, but he does know his team. Like the Washington Wizards before them, the Pistons are learning about them, too.

For various and constantly changing reasons, the primary being LeBron James, the Cavs just win close games. Against the Wizards they won three one-point games by playing great offense. They've outlasted the Pistons in the last two games by playing great defense.

They've now won 17 of their last 19 games decided by four points or less. Most of them have come at home, where the Cavs went 31-10 in the regular season and have taken 14 of the last 15 overall.

Usually the Pistons kill such streaks, their rugged style and togetherness overcoming all. That hasn't been the case in this series for quite some time now, dating back to Game 2 at the Palace of Auburn Hills when the Cavs tightened their defense in the second half to turn a blowout into close game.

James scored 22 points and broke the tie by twice splitting free throws in the final minute. He also had eight rebounds, nine assists, and eight turnovers on ordinary 8-of-23 shooting. But those are offensive stats; his efforts within in the Cavs' defensive scheme were just as vital.

The Pistons shot just 33 percent in Game 4 and made just 4-of-18 shots in the fourth quarter when the Cavs erased a six-point deficit. Over the last three games the Cavs have outscored the Pistons 85-53 in the fourth quarters and held them to 30 percent shooting.

That is supposed to be the Pistons' winning time not the Cinderella Cavs'.

It has come from being physical and getting in position, be it getting a hand in a face or taking a charge. As Anderson Varejao, who led the NBA in charges per 48 minutes, did with 30 seconds to play in a crucial moment when he slipped and absorbed Chauncey Billups with the Cavs ahead by a single point. It was Ben Wallace-like as the Cavs continued to be Pistons-like.

"The last two games we lost in our style games," said Richard Hamilton, who led all scorers with 30 points. "We had the game right where we wanted it."

Indeed this has been uncharacteristic of the Pistons. On offense they have really tried to take advantage of the Cavs' decision to switch on pick-and-rolls to create matchup problems and the absence of Cleveland's best perimeter defender, Larry Hughes.

So Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, who sprained his right ankle in the game, have gotten great position against smaller players in the post and Hamilton has repeatedly burned Damon Jones and Flip Murray.

Yet they missed chances when the Cavs have yielded them down the stretch and suffered self-inflicted wounds, turning the ball over five times in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and seven times in the fourth of Game 4.

Still with the homecourt edge and all the experience, the Pistons remain the favorites. But it is the Cavs to seemed to have jettisoned the pressure and, for the moment, have stolen another valuable Piston weapon: confidence.

"If we continue to focus," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "Who knows what will happen."

Brian Windhorst covers the Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon-Journal.