June 03, 2007
CLEVELAND -- One team gained strength as the series went on, one got weaker. One club became more confident, the other got rattled. One stayed resilient, the other imploded.
This series was decided at the end of Game 2, when LeBron James attacked the rim, drew contact from Richard Hamilton but wasn't awarded a foul. The Cavs were furious with the no-call, fled the court in anger and prepared to meet the media after going down 2-0. The coaches and players were irate, ready to rip the officials for failing to call a foul on the play and costing Cleveland the game.
Instead, general manager Danny Ferry and his assistant Lance Blanks took control of the situation, demanding from everyone that no excuses would be made. Hence, the quote from both Mike Brown and LeBron James: "We're a no-excuses team."
The Cavaliers gained strength from that moment. The message delivered to the press was as much meant for Cleveland's players as anyone. Refusing to blame the officials meant showing no signs of weakness. It meant building strength rather than allowing an internal excuse. By Game 3, the Cavs were unified, strong and ready to take on Detroit. That's when everything turned.
The Pistons, on the other hand, were an emotional wreck from Game 3 on. Rasheed Wallace was whining about the officials constantly, throwing his jersey in the hallway of Quicken Loans Arena and inadvertently hitting a teammate in the face. There were heated arguments between players and coaches, flagrant fouls and technical fouls.
By the time Game 6 started, it was clear who the stronger team was. Cleveland was poised and ready. Detroit was frenzied, playing well at times but never showing the look of a champion. And when Wallace was booted from the game after getting two technicals in the middle of the fourth quarter, it was over. The team that has dominated the Eastern Conference the past five years was officially done. With an aging team and cracks in the armor, it appears that the Pistons could be on the downside of the hill.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are on the way up. They may not be a finished product, and they are young and at times vulnerable. But Ferry has helped create a strong culture in Cleveland with good people who work hard and pull forward together. Without LeBron James, of course, they wouldn't be very good, but that's not the point. James is there, and the Cavs are building a solid foundation around him, both on and off the court.