Cavs Lead Pistons, 3-2, in Eastern Finals

Game six in the Eastern Conference NBA playoffs will be played Saturday night. The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the Detroit Pistons 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. NPR's Tom Goldman talks hoops with NPR's John Ydstie.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Time now for basketball. Tonight is game six in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers who lead the best of seven series, three games to two, will host the Detroit Pistons. On Thursday, LeBron James led Cleveland through double overtime to take game five. The Eastern Conference winner will meet the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals starting June 7th.

To talk hoops, we're joined by NPR's Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, John.

YDSTIE: So after all the hype, did King James finally demonstrate that he's the best player in the league on Thursday night?

GOLDMAN: Yes. Next question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: I mean…

YDSTIE: He scored a couple of points there at the end, didn't he?

GOLDMAN: I would have to say, I'm a believer, and I was skeptical as the next sports reporter. And, you know, LeBron was - as is the fashion of our day in pro-sports, a mega-marketed, mega-hyped commodity before he'd ever done anything of significance on an NBA court.

Well, as you said, Thursday night - 48 points, 29 of his team's last 30 points. And he did something that we haven't seen since Michael Jordan - he willed his team to win. I mean, he just got the ball on his hands and he wasn't going to let them lose. And, you know, the number of basketball players who can do that in history could be counted on one hand, really.

YDSTIE: So, the finals start Thursday night, who would the Spurs rather face, the Pistons or the Cavaliers?

GOLDMAN: It's the matter of facing the greatest player out there right now or one of the best teams. What LeBron showed on Thursday night is that one can beat five, and that's a dangerous thing. But I think, if you're the Spurs, you'll like your odds a little better by facing the Cavaliers, because if you can somehow keep the ball out of LeBron James' hands, the rest of him just can't hurt you that badly. And the Pistons have a wonderful team as they've showed over the last five to seven years, and they could give the Spurs a good run for their money.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. And while James has played better and better as this current series has gone on, the question is can he consistently play that way? Can he consistently take over a game? I mean, to be the best player in the league, you basically have to be able to do that on a regular basis.

GOLDMAN: I think that's a good point, John. And I think, one of the things that's giving Detroit hope right now as it heads into game six tonight, and possibly a game seven. I mean, LeBron James on court, a game of the ages, can he do that, you know, twice in one series?

I mean, some people say you couldn't do that twice in an entire year. I mean, he can get close, but, you know, the Pistons after game five seemed pretty loose. I mean, they realized that they had been part of something amazing, but Chauncey Billups interviewed in the locker room afterwards, it was very congenial, the music was playing in the background. You know, the Pistons weren't all that worried - at least, they didn't look all that worried. They were in the same situation last year when they were down 3-2 to the Cavaliers and came back and won game six and seven.

YDSTIE: Now, Kobe Bryant is another guy who's got a claim on the best player in the league designation. He was in the news this past - not in the playoffs this past week, but in the news.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah. This is the only way Kobe can get in the news recently by doing what he did, which was going on the radio and saying, I'm unhappy. I've been had. I've been used by my owner. I want to be traded. And then about three hours later, went on other radio show and said well, I talked to Phil Jackson, my coach, I think I'll stick around.

And since then, Kobe Bryant has had a discussion with L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss and it seems like they've had somewhat of a meeting of the minds. I think, most people think Kobe will stay put in Los Angeles. Certainly, Jerry Buss wants to keep him there. So, it was a little sidelight, a little soap opera, but as we said, that's how Kobe generates headlines these days.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, John.

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