CLEVELAND — Of all the fearsome players the Eastern Conference has sent West to do battle with the game’s most established stars, who would have figured on ’Bron-Bron and Boobie?
Six months past his 22nd birthday, four years after he jumped straight from high school, LeBron James is headed to the NBA finals. He got there because Daniel Gibson, a baby-faced assassin of 21 — a rookie whose mother nicknamed him “Boobie” — kept knocking down the most pressurized three-pointers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals?
Be honest. Did you know Daniel Gibson’s given name before last week, the night he dumped in 21 points in Game 4 to knot the series?
“Boobie for three! Boobie for three!” Mike Brown, the Cleveland coach, kept yelling into the microphone afterward, as the Quicken Loans Arena quaked with yelps and cheers after the Cavs had stunningly taken care of Detroit, four games to two.
Boobie for three?
Beyond the Cavs’ locker room, this is just so unexpected, so unheralded. Think about it. After every established veteran went down — from Shaquille O’Neal to Jason Kidd and onto Rip Hamilton — James, Gibson and the very green Cavs are headed to San Antonio to meet Duncan and the indomitable three-time champions after dunking on Detroit.
Unbridled Youth 98, Old Men at the Y 82.
In a city clamoring so long for a champion to call their own, athleticism and boyish exuberance was served Saturday night to Sour-Puss ’Sheed and the decrepit Pistons.
In their last-ditch effort to stave off elimination, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and the rest of Detroit’s players decided they would not let LeBron alone beat them. They double- and triple-teamed him and forced him to give up the ball. No more 48-point heirlooms like Game 5.
But they had no idea the kid on the receiving end of those passes would square up with the same confidence of a perennial all-star, step into each shot from behind the three-point line and knock them down with poise a player like Chauncey Billups used to show.
Five for five from beyond the arc. Twelve for 15 from the free-throw line. Nineteen of Gibson’s 31 points came in a blitzkrieg of a fourth quarter, where the Cavaliers outscored the Pistons by 15 and became the third team in league
history to rebound from a 2-0 deficit in the conference finals.
Wallace pathetically — and predictably — stalked off the court in anger, earning two technical fouls within seconds of each other with less than eight minutes left in the game. He had accrued seven technical fouls in the playoffs and would have been suspended for Game 7 if it had gone that far. The irony was, after all the resiliency the Pistons showed the past five seasons, youngsters like James and Gibson showed twice as much poise Saturday.
They literally passed the offensive baton to each other from Game 5 to Game 6, taking turns extinguishing the Pistons.
Before tip-off, Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley were watching a pregame show in a room across the hall from the Detroit locker room. Miller’s breath-taking performances against the Knicks in the 1990s were being shown when Barkley inquired, “Reg, you got 25 in a quarter once?”
Miller nodded sheepishly. “Yep, I was feelin’ it.”
Barkley then asked why in the world Detroit did not take the ball out of LeBron’s hands when he became flammable in Game 5.
“You scored 56 points in a game once,” Miller said, pointing to the television, where a clip of svelte Barkley obliterating Golden State in 1994 was playing. “Charles, you knew that night no one — no one — was going to stop you from getting that ball.”
“Don Nelson wouldn’t double me. I told him to double me or else.”
Whether the Pistons gave LeBron the
red-carpet treatment that led to their Game 5 demise or he had crossed the threshold, into a world where there are no bad shots and everything goes in, didn’t seem to matter. Because Saturday night Daniel Gibson became LeBron. He became Reggie and Charles. And Larry and Magic and Michael and any other player who took it upon himself to send another franchise home for the season.
“I told Daniel before the game, I said, ‘I believe Detroit is going to double-team me, triple me before I cross half court, so get that gun and get it locked and loaded and just shoot it,’” James said. “Don’t second-guess yourself, just shoot it.”
In the realm of second-round steals, Gibson immediately jumped into Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer territory. As supporting-cast performances go, his Game 6 barrage was as good as Allan Houston shooting down Miller and Indiana in 1999 at Madison Square Garden.
“From day one LeBron has been in my corner,” he said. “He told me ... he was going to make me something special, he was going to do whatever he could to make me better. Like I said, when I took shots, he told me to keep shooting, don’t hesitate, don’t worry about anything else. ‘When you got a look, take it,’ and when a guy tells you that, you step into it with a lot of confidence and knock it down for him.”
From the beginning, the East was for the taking this season. Shaq was getting older, Detroit was less than dominant and it seemed anyone — even the Wizards when they were healthy — had a shot at representing the conference in the NBA Finals. Now, everyone watching must sit at home in envy of the kids from Cleveland who actually seized the opportunity the way Chicago, New Jersey and others could not.
They’ll watch LeBron James, Daniel Gibson and their teammates try to scale one more seemingly insurmountable peak. Mount Duncan. It doesn’t seem possible. But then, neither did Detroit before ’Bron-Bron and Boobie sent the grumpy old men from the Motor City home for the season.