AUBURN HILLS, Mich. &
The Detroit Pistons know LeBron James can beat them.
The Pistons aren't sure his teammates can, so they were thrilled when the 22-year-old star deferred to Donyell Marshall with Game — of the Eastern Conference finals on the line.
James drove and dished to Marshall, who missed a wide-open a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left that allowed Detroit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 79-76 on Monday night.
"Most of the time, that kid is going to make the right decision," Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter said.
James' unselfish choice was called into question after the game.
He steadfastly stood by it.
"I go for the winning play," James said after scoring a playoff-low 10 points. "The winning play when two guys come at you and a teammate is open is to give it up. It's as simple as that."
Rasheed Wallace simply was surprised James, despite being well-covered, didn't try to score when he got close to the basket.
"I thought he was going for the shot," Wallace said.
Most of the people watching in person and on TV probably did, too.
Marshall, who made six 3-pointers in the Game 6 series-clinching win over New Jersey in the conference semifinals, took the miss &
his only 3-point attempt of the game &
"I'd take that 100 times out of 100," he said.
Chauncey Billups chased down the long rebound of Marshall's miss from the corner, and he later made one of two free throws with 2.4 seconds left.
Billups scored 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter, making all three of his shots including a 3-pointer that gave the Pistons a 78-76 lead with 1:52 left.
The point guard closed strong offensively in what was an unusually sloppy game with seven turnovers and five assists.
"We played bad enough to lose this game, no question about it," Billups said. "I think the sign of a really good team is you've got to win ugly games. We did just that. It could have went the other way, but we're up 1-0."
James is often compared to Michael Jordan, but he seemed to play more like Magic Johnson in his first conference finals appearance.
He clearly was trying to set up teammates while going scoreless in the first quarter, making more assists (3) than shot attempts (2) in 12 minutes. James was outscored by five of his teammates until he made two straight shots toward the end of the third quarter.
"If he makes the pass and they score we'll live with it," Detroit's Richard Hamilton said.
James was 5-of-15 from the field, had 10 rebounds and fell just short of a triple-double with nine assists. His previous playoff low was 18 points.
Despite frequent contact, James didn't attempt one free throw.
Wallace expects Cavs coach Mike Brown to make that an issue.
"I'm sure Mike will talk about it and he'll get some trips to the line in Game 2," Wallace said.
Both teams attempted 17 free throws.
"It was definitely a physical game," he said. "Fouls were called at times and weren't called at times."
Tayshaun Prince played chest-to-chest defense against James when he didn't have the ball and had plenty of help when he did.
"Everywhere he went, he had three guys in his face," Hunter said. "We have to keep that up all series."
Game 2 is Thursday night at The Palace before the series shifts to Cleveland.
James took just three shots in the fourth quarter &
making one &
and defended the decision.
"You just have to take what's there," said James, who was averaging 26 points in the playoffs on an average of 19 shots. "It's not about taking a high volume of shots, it's about trying to win the basketball game."
Hamilton scored 24 points and had seven assists, while Wallace had 15 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks. Prince added eight points and a playoff career-high nine assists.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs, taking advantage of James' pass-first strategy. Larry Hughes and reserve Anderson Varejao each scored 13 points.
The Cavs &
in their first Eastern Conference final since 1992 &
fell to 0-12 in Game 1s on the road.
The Cavs shot 37 percent from the field, but compensated for it by turning 18 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points. ... Detroit's Chris Webber scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter after two early fouls led to a scoreless first quarter. ... Cleveland's starting guards &
Sasha Pavlovic and Hughes &
combined for 21 points on 8-of-27 shooting.
James' late pass draws criticism as Cavs lose to Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. &