With Larry Hughes being injured for Game 4 and perhaps out the entire series, I believe that the Cavaliers may actually be improved. As weird as it sounds, this reminds me of Patrick Ewing against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals a decade ago. The Knicks actually matched up better against the Pacers without Ewing, and the Cavs may match up better against the Pistons without Larry Hughes. Last year, the Cavs had their best performances against the Pistons when Larry was out for his brother’s funeral.
Another intriguing storyline for me in Conference and NBA Finals is how substitutes can sway a game for one team or another. I first saw this as an NBA fan when Raja Bell came off the bench for the 76’ers in the last two games to help them beat out the Bucks in 2001. The Pistons have experienced some success with Dale Davis (Game 1), Jason Maxiell (Game 2) and Flip Murray (Game 3), while the Cavs have used Anderson Varajeo (Games 1-2) and Daniel Gibson (Game 3) well. How many bullets does each team still have to fire off the bench?
I think that the Pistons can get away with using Maxiell and Murray again to give them a boost. The Pistons desperately need quickness to deal with the length of the Cavs, and Maxiell and Murray provide those attributes. Frankly, I would be very tempted to go so far as to bench Billups and Webber for Maxiell and Murray, were it not for the fall-off in passing without Webber. Dale Davis and Antonio McDyess, though, may not be of any use in this series.
The Pistons still have one unused bullet off the bench: Carlos Delfino. Don’t laugh. He matches up better with Lebron than you think, and the Cavs don’t know as much about him as they do the other Pistons. They need to give Tayshaun some rest, and I think Game 4 is a perfect spot to use Carlos. If the Pistons lose, so what? But if he gives them a spark to win Game 4, then they just have to win one of three games.
The Cavs have a dilemma with Anderson Varajeo. He’s so out-of-control sometimes on defense, but the Pistons have problems keeping him off the offensive glass. I think he still needs some minutes. The low minute total in Game 3 was a surprise. I’m still wary of Daniel Gibson over Eric Snow. It’s dangerous to fall in love with a rookie after one good game. The Pistons will be better prepared to deal with Daniel Gibson in Game 4.
I know I’m crazy, but I think that the Cavs have a potential weapon in…Scot Pollard. I’m not even sure Scot is on the play-off roster right now. If he is, the Cavs should sneak him onto the floor in the third quarter, which the Pistons have been winning anyway. Here’s why; the Cavs have been unable to find a defender who can shut down Wallace in the post. Pollard at least has the body to contend with Wallace down low, and Wallace may get off to a poor shooting start if forced outside to start the second half. Pollard may also be able to set better picks for Lebron. At least he won’t take 18-footers off faked pick-and-rolls (ahem, Drew Gooden). The Cavs have been hurt by slow-developing plays all series long against the Pistons. But I worry about the drop in offensive production. Same problem with Ira Newble.