Cleveland Wins Upset to Get to NBA Finals

The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the NBA finals last night after knocking off the powerhouse Detroit Pistons. Few expected the young, energetic Cavaliers, led by 22-year-old LeBron James, to make it this far.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

For the first time in NBA history, the city of Cleveland will have a team playing for a championship. Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the perennial powerhouse of the East, the Detroit Pistons, 98-82. Cleveland will meet the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the NBA Championship series, Thursday night. The series pits two very different stars of the league: the young phenom, LeBron James, against the quiet, efficient Tim Duncan.

Here to tell us more is NPR's Tom Goldman. Hello there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Let's start with last night's game. LeBron James is certainly the main reason for his team's success. But last night it sounds like it was one of his teammates who made the difference.

GOLDMAN: It certainly was. Remember the name Daniel Gibson - the rookie - had an amazing game. Thirty-one points, 19 in the fourth quarter, sinking a three-pointer after a three-pointer. And it was so significant for the Cavs and the kind of thing that should give the Spurs pause as they look forward to the NBA Finals. Because everyone knew, as you said, it was about LeBron. What he did in Game Five, Thursday, was unbelievable, 48 points and single-handedly beat Detroit.

Everyone knew he was going to be double-teamed last night. He was. And what would be key was if any of his teammates could step up. Daniel Gibson did in a big way. So now, the Spurs are going to have to cover Daniel Gibson and others as well.

ELLIOTT: LeBron James does appear to have come into his own during these playoffs. Ever since he was in high school, he's been hyped. He was compared to Michael Jordan. His nickname is King James. Do you think he's lived up?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, he hasn't won six NBA titles yet like Jordan did, but the way he's playing it looks like he could win even more than that, Debbie. Right now at 22, LeBron's skill set and his physical make-up are even greater than Jordan's was at 22. LeBron combine size, speed, quickness, court awareness, shooting ability, rebounding ability, passing ability. He's the best of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And really, a scientist couldn't have drawn up a more perfect basketball specimen in a laboratory.

ELLIOTT: So LeBron James and the Cavaliers doing well. But they're going to be facing a very experienced team in the San Antonio Spurs come Thursday. Do you think they're up to the task?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think they are. And I think that's because they're an evolving team. We still don't know how good these Cavaliers can be. We know now that LeBron can beat a team single-handedly. We know that his teammates can help out. How they'll do against the Spurs, I mean, the Spurs are a very tough team since 1999. They've won three championships led by Tim Duncan, as you mentioned.

But the Cavaliers, interestingly, are made in the image of San Antonio. Coach Mike Brown of Cleveland was an assistant at San Antonio. He's been calling San Antonio coach Greg Popovich during the playoffs to keep getting information and tips. That's going to end as of Thursday. And on top of all these, the two teams met head-to-head during the regular season. Cleveland won both times, two very hard-fought games.

ELLIOTT: Tell us more about Tim Duncan.

GOLDMAN: Tim Duncan is the best big man in the NBA and you see that. I mean, he's a coach's delight, whether he's shooting, passing, running the floor, rebounding. He does everything right. He wastes very little energy in doing it.

ELLIOTT: Tom, not many people expected the Cavaliers to make it this far. What does this mean for the NBA Finals?

GOLDMAN: In a way, it rescues the Finals. Detroit versus San Antonio was going to be a final series, a very good basketball, but with very little pizzazz. The Cavaliers add that pizzazz. They add the unknown quality of a team, kind of, on the rise and you're not sure how good they can be.

Another interesting point of this is it, in the sense, helps the Eastern Conference very well. The NBA is divided into the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference is dominant by far. Now, Cleveland has established itself as a very exciting team. LeBron was always a great draw around the country. But now the Cavaliers have the chance to, kind of, achieve a rock star status in bringing the crowds everywhere.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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