EDS: SUBS 2nd graf to FIX typo in Thursday.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -The Detroit Pistons might be on the verge of playoff elimination because of one bad decision.
Late in the first quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, Anderson Varejao took a pass from LeBron James and slashed his way down the lane. He was rudely intercepted by Antonio McDyess, who clotheslined him to the floor.
The 11-year veteran was given a flagrant-2 foul, meaning he was automatically ejected. He watched the rest of the game on television as his teammates lost 109-107 in double overtime.
``That was big, man, that was big,'' Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said. ``Dice has been playing great for us, and they know that kid flops every time. For him to exaggerate - that's probably what got him tossed.''
The Cavaliers have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, and can advance to the NBA finals with a victory at home on Saturday.
With McDyess in the locker room, Chris Webber in foul trouble and Ben Wallace now a member of the Chicago Bulls, the inside defense Detroit is know for was nowhere to be found.
``It hurt, because he's played so well, and given us so much energy,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ``He's one of our best defenders.''
Jason Maxiell provided some offense - scoring nine points in the first half - but never took a shot in the second half and overtime. The second-year forward finished with five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes.
On the defensive end, though, he struggled badly, getting beaten repeatedly at key moments down the stretch by James, who finished with 48 points. He flailed helplessly when James went past him for a dunk with 31 seconds left in the first overtime, and was nearly motionless on the Cleveland superstar's game-winning layup with 2.2 seconds left in the second overtime.
``I thought Maxie played well,'' Saunders said. ``LeBron was just in a zone tonight. He saw lanes and he attacked them.''
Maxiell wasn't the only victim. Without any interior help, even Detroit defensive ace Tayshaun Prince was unable to stop James, getting beaten badly for two late game-tying dunks.
``I'm not surprised,'' James said about his domination of the paint. ``They are definitely a great defensive team, but I was determined to attack.''
Saunders also tried Dale Davis inside in the second and third quarters, but the 15-year veteran didn't provide much help. Davis didn't score in his eight minutes, and had as many fouls (two) as rebounds.
Billups said James' brilliant finish, which included 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, was helped in great part by the ejection that took place over three hours earlier.
``As we were subbing and subbing, some guys were thinking we were doing one thing and we were doing another,'' Billups said. ``That's how he was getting those dunks. It's frustrating not to be able to get locked in when the stakes are so high.''
Maxiell also made a rookie mistake during the McDyess-Varejao incident. Just after McDyess' hard foul in the lane - which could result in a suspension for Game 6 - James charged at him, but was intercepted by Maxiell.
James was called for a technical foul on the play, but it might have been worse had he gotten to McDyess and delivered a blow. Instead, he finished with his career playoff high, including the Cavaliers' last 25 points of the game, and moved the Cavaliers within a win of their first finals appearance.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown didn't know how close he came to losing James, but said his superstar did the right thing.
``LeBron did what a teammate is supposed to do - he went to Andy's defense,'' Brown said. ``That's how this game is played.''

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