CLEVELAND – For three quarters, the Cleveland Cavaliers were at their basketball best.
“It was beautiful,” Mo Williams said.
It didn’t end that way.
Cleveland blew most of a 29-point lead in the final period against Detroit’s reserves and the Cavaliers had to reinsert LeBron James to restore order before hanging on for a 94-82 win over the Pistons on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
James, showing no regard for a defensive plan Detroit spent three days preparing for him, scored 29 and Williams added 21 as the Cavaliers withstood a stirring comeback by the Pistons, who used a 27-5 run to close within seven on Antonio McDyess’ jumper with 3:51 left.
“We lost our focus,” Williams said. “We all knew it. But it’s nothing to get overly concerned about. I don’t think it will happen again.”
Delonte West scored 20 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas 12 for the top-seeded Cavs, who led 79-50 in the first minute of the fourth quarter and were embarrassing the Pistons. But Detroit dug in and gave Cleveland and its raucous crowd a scare the Cavs may never forget.
“We let it slip away from us,” Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson said. “But we got it back.”
James added 13 rebounds, six assists and an unforgettable, wind-mill dunk before putting on his warmups and sitting out the first 4:45 of the fourth quarter.
But as Cleveland’s star was resting up for Game 3 on Friday night at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., the Pistons, showing more fight than they had in the two games, closed within 14 and forced Cavs coach Mike Brown to put James and Cleveland’s other starters back in.
Richard Hamilton scored 17 and Rodney Stuckey 14 for the Pistons, who are going home down 0-2 and with their starters searching for positives.
“Nothing we’re doing now is working,” McDyess said. “We basically have to play a perfect game just to be on top.”
• Philadelphia at Orlando, 4 p.m., NBA
• Miami at Orlando, 5 p.m., TNT
• New Orleans at Denver, 7:30 p.m., TNT