DETROIT, Apr 25 – The Cleveland Cavaliers pushed the Detroit Pistons to the brink of elimination in the National Basketball Association playoffs on Friday with a 79-68 victory in their Eastern Conference first-round series.
In Philadelphia, the 76ers edged the Orlando Magic 96-94 to take a surprising 2-1 lead in their series.
Thaddeus Young’s layup with two seconds to play lifted the Sixers to victory.
Philadelphia had stumbled into the playoffs with six defeats in their last seven regular-season games, but are now two victories away from winning a playoff series for the first time since Allen Iverson led them to the NBA finals in 2001.
Dwight Howard had 36 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 29 points while Andre Miller added 24.
Howard’s two free throws with less than eight seconds to play knotted the score at 94-94.
But Young took a pass near the baseline and drove to the basket for the game-winner.
There were no surprises in Detroit, where Cleveland superstar LeBron James just missed a triple-double, scoring 25 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists Friday as Cleveland took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
After Detroit’s Antonio McDyess questioned his team’s collective effort in losing the first two games of the series, the Pistons came out strong.
But James neutralized their effort when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
He had a slam dunk midway through the final period, part of an 18-2 scoring run that started after the score was tied for the sixth time in the game.
"Big-time players make plays, and that’s what he did," Detroit coach Michael Curry said.
James, irked by the lack of calls on perceived fouls against him, eventually put the issue aside and focused on winning the game.
"Once he decided to say, ‘Hey, I’m not getting calls. I’m going to will this team to a win,’ our whole team changed," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "Watching him flip that switch, it was very exciting."
James had plenty of help. Teammate Joe Smith had a career playoff high of 19 points and 10 rebounds and Zydrunas Ilgauskas notched 13 points.
Now the Pistons face a must-win game on Sunday to extend the series.
Curry had said the Pistons’ chances depended on strong performances from both Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, and neither delivered.
Wallace scored just five points, while Prince scored seven points in the first quarter and was held scoreless the rest of the game as he battled an aching back.
Detroit’s Richard Hamilton had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Rodney Stuckey chipped in 12 points and five assists. McDyess had eight points and eight rebounds.
Detroit started strong, scoring the first eight points and then rallying after falling behind by nine in the first half.
The lead changed hands in the third quarter, but James finally proved too much. "This is killing me," Hamilton admitted. "I can’t even lie."