CLEVELAND (AP) - Greatness promised. Greatness delivered.
When LeBron James' moment arrived, he was ready. Just like another No. 23.
Call it LeBronesque.
With a tour-de-force performance that was one of the best in NBA playoff history, James shook the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 on Thursday night in 50 spellbinding minutes that included two nerve-racking overtimes.
The 22-year-old superstar soared like never before. He scored 48 points - the Cavaliers' final 25 and 29 of their last 30 - to carry Cleveland within one win of its first trip to the NBA finals.
At Detroit's suburban Palace, King James ruled.
"LeBron just wouldn't let us lose," Cavaliers guard Damon Jones said.
James stamped his growing reputation with all the fury of one of his thunderous slam dunks. He drove past Detroit's defenders, elevated to shoot over the Pistons and twisted through their double and triple teams as if in a playground back home in Akron.
The 48 points were spectacular, but hardly tell the whole story. He scored them in the biggest game of his four-year career. He scored them in the most important game in Cleveland's 37-year history. He scored them on the road, against the Pistons, one of the league's toughest defensive teams.
And James - who added nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals - scored the 48 a little more than one week after being lambasted for his late-game decisions in Games 1 and 2, a pair of three-point losses.
James became the first player to score 25 straight points in the postseason, an effort rivaling almost anything Michael Jordan did in the playoffs.
"He just did what he felt he needed to do for us to win," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "I don't think he was trying to set any historical mark or anything. He just did what he felt he was supposed to do to help us win. I don't know what he can't do."
Physically and mentally drained following the game, James received an IV to guard against dehydration before leaving Detroit's home arena for the short flight back to Cleveland on Friday morning.
Brown, who gave the Cavaliers the day off to rest for Game 6, remained somewhat amazed by James' performance.
"You know," he said, "I'm still in awe. And the whole country had a chance to see what we've seen as his coaches and teammates and organization on a daily basis. We know what he's capable of doing, because we've seen it a lot."
James' 48 points were the most scored against the Pistons since Nov. 23, 2001 - a span of 590 games. It was also the highest-scoring game in Detroit by a playoff opponent since Elgin Baylor's 61 in 1961. It was the most points against the Pistons in the postseason since Dominique Wilkins got 50 in 1986 - when James was 1 year old.
After being ridiculed for passing up the last shot in Game 1, James kept the ball in the final seconds of Game 2 but missed on a final attempt in the lane. At home for Game 3, he scored 32 points with nine assists and nine rebounds, making a tough jumper with 16 seconds left in the win.
James followed with a 13-point fourth quarter to win Game 4. That set stage for Game 5, when he blasted through the lane for two monster dunks in the final 31 seconds of regulation, nailed impossible 3-pointers and scored all 18 points for Cleveland in the overtime sessions.
He capped his Motown masterpiece by knifing through three Pistons for a layup with 2.2 seconds left.
"We threw everything we had at him," Chauncey Billups said. "We just couldn't stop him. He was hitting everything. Not the dunks and layups, that was easy. But the threes, he was shooting over double teams."
James outscored the Pistons 25-19 in the final 12:17 despite missing three free throws (he was 10-of-14 from the line). He also made a big defensive stop, picking off a pass by Tayshaun Prince with 2:13 left in the second OT and the Pistons up by two.
"His will was amazing, on top of all the criticism he took in Games 1 and 2," said TNT's Doug Collins, who coached Jordan in Chicago. "He never whined. He never cried. All you heard him say was, 'I've got to be better. And if you get me into the fourth quarter, I'll help you win the game."'
This Cavaliers-Pistons series has eerily mirrored last year's semifinals. The Pistons won the first two at home and dropped three straight a year ago before recovering to win Game 6 in Cleveland and Game 7 in Detroit.
That's their challenge again, but now the Pistons are dealing with a locked-in James, who the other day said he "has never been so focused in my life," and now has Cleveland within reach of its first NBA title.
The Pistons will be at full strength for Game 6. Antonio McDyess will not face further disciplinary action after being ejected in the first quarter of Game 5 for a hard foul on Anderson Varejao.
"This series just got harder for us," Billups said. "But like I said, we've been in these waters before. We can handle ourselves in these situations. We've got to get one win, period."
|Drew Gooden, PF||28||3-10||0-0||1-2||3||3||6||1||1||0||1||6||7|
|LeBron James, SF||50||18-33||2-3||10-14||3||6||9||7||2||0||2||3||48|
|Zydrunas Ilgauskas, C||39||6-9||0-0||4-6||1||7||8||2||0||2||1||6||16|
|Larry Hughes, SG||29||2-3||2-2||3-5||0||1||1||1||1||0||4||4||9|
|Sasha Pavlovic, GF||42||2-10||1-3||1-2||3||6||9||1||0||0||3||4||6|
|Eric Snow, PG||8||0-1||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||0|
|Donyell Marshall, F||15||0-1||0-1||0-0||0||3||3||0||0||1||0||1||0|
|Scot Pollard, C||0||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Damon Jones, PG||14||1-2||1-2||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3|
|Anderson Varejao, FC||34||3-6||0-0||3-4||2||1||3||0||2||2||1||3||9|
|Daniel Gibson, G||30||2-7||1-3||6-6||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||6||11|
|45.1%||46.7%||71.8%||Team TO (pts off): 14 (16)|