- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CLEVELAND — Rasheed Wallace’s right ankle was heavily taped. Maybe his mouth should have been, too.

Wallace’s perfect record of predicting Detroit playoff victories was snapped last night when LeBron James scored 22 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers dug deep on defense to beat the Pistons 74-72, evening their second-round series at 2-2.

“Everybody was counting us out,” James said. “Even people in our own backyard were counting us out. That’s extra motivation for us. We don’t listen to nobody.”

Following Detroit’s loss in Game 3, Wallace had pledged the Pistons not only would win Game 4, but that the Cavaliers would be playing in front of their fans for the last time this season last night.

He was doubly wrong.

The Cavaliers, employing Pistons-style defense and getting big shots from everyone, are back in a series that began lopsided and is as tight as it can be. For the second straight game, Cleveland won a low-scoring defensive struggle — the kind of game that has typified Detroit for years.

“We’re not feeling the pressure,” James said. “The Pistons are.”

With Wallace watching from the bench after rolling his ankle, James made two free throws — the last with 1.3 seconds left — and the Pistons threw away their final inbounds pass to James, who grabbed the ball and punted it into the second deck.

Moments later, James jumped up on the scorer’s table as Quicken Loans Arena quaked beneath him. The building was electrified from start to finish, and Wallace’s boast had a lot to do with that. Detroit’s mouthy forward was booed every time he touched the ball.

Afterward, Wallace remained confident the Pistons eventually will put the Cavaliers away.

“I ain’t worried about these cats,” he said. “There’s no way in [heck] they beat us in a series. They played well. I give them credit. We lost. We shot 30 percent, and they had to play their best to beat us.”

James added nine assists and eight rebounds, narrowly missing his third triple-double of the postseason. Eric Snow had 12 points — 10 after halftime — and Anderson Varejao had 10 points and drew a key foul late in the game.

Richard Hamilton scored 30 points, and Tayshaun Prince had 16 for the Pistons, who suddenly find themselves in a tense series after dominating at home in Games 1 and 2. The series now shifts to the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., for Game 5 tomorrow.

That was when Wallace figured the Pistons would be wrapping things up. Instead, they will be coming back to Ohio on Friday, and if they’re not careful, it could be to save their own season.

“We don’t feel pressure,” Prince said. “That’s the experience of our guys. We’ve been in these situations. Usually we make a run in the fourth. But tonight we couldn’t, and that’s when the Cavs did.”

The Cavaliers again were without starting guard Larry Hughes, whose 20-year-old brother, Justin, will be buried today. Justin Hughes was born with a heart defect and had a transplant in 1997.

The Cavaliers will attend Hughes’ funeral today in St. Louis before traveling to Detroit.

“It’s what we have to do,” Damon Jones said. “It’s a must. We want to be there for Larry and his family. He’s our family.”

Wallace came in 4-0 in playoff games he has “Guaran-Sheed.” His first came in Game 2 of the 2004 conference finals against Indiana, and he made another in 2005 in Game 4 of a second-round series with the Pacers.

Last year, he also guaranteed Detroit would win Game 6 in Miami, and he promised the Pistons would beat Milwaukee in a Game 3 earlier in these playoffs.

This time, Wallace’s bombast blew up in his face.

With the score tied 72-72, James was fouled by Hamilton with 1:02 left, and as Cleveland’s forward lined up for his free throws, Chauncey Billups came up alongside and said something.

“Hey!” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown shouted to the officials. “He can’t talk to him like that!”

James had done the same thing to Gilbert Arenas in the closing seconds of Game 6 in the first round, icing Washington’s guard, who missed two free throws that allowed the Cavaliers to win.

“Chauncey tried to give me what I gave to Gilbert last series,” James said.

James split the foul shots, but Detroit couldn’t capitalize as Prince missed before Ben Wallace was tied up underneath. The Pistons controlled a jump ball, but Billups was whistled for barreling over Varejao with 29.6 seconds left.

James ran some time off the clock but misfired on a 19-foot jumper. After a timeout, Hamilton missed on a drive, Ben Wallace couldn’t tip it in and Pistons forward Maurice Evans knocked the ball out.

Again, James, who was only 5-for-10 from the line, split a pair with 1.3 seconds left. The Pistons had one last chance but were unable to complete a pass before time ran out.

Much to the delight of Cavaliers fans, some of whom were booing Rasheed Wallace two hours before game time, Detroit’s boisterous forward rolled his right ankle while guarding James on a drive in the second quarter.

After being helped to his feet, Wallace gingerly walked to the locker room to get retaped. He finished with seven points on 3-for-13 shooting.

“I’m all right,” Wallace said. “Don’t send me to the glue factory yet. It’s nothing that hasn’t happened before.”


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