Auburn Hills, MI (Sports Network) - LeBron James narrowly missed a triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, as the Cavaliers surged to a 79-68 win over Detroit in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Joe Smith had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a reserve role, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 13 points for the Cavs, who hold a 3-0 lead in the series and are on the verge of a sweep. No team in the history of the NBA playoffs has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
"The stuff that he's doing now, it's no surprise to us," Cavs coach Mike Brown said of the 33-year-old Smith. "I said it in front of the team 'way to go old man.' The players jumped on me right away. They reminded me, he's not an old man and reminded me of his nickname 'Beast' which is what he was tonight."
Cleveland scored just nine points in the third quarter and entered the final 12 minutes tied at 53, but surged late thanks to spectacular defense and a dominating 18-2 push.
Mo Williams, who struggled by going 1-of-11 from the field, had seven assists for the Cavs, who have beaten Detroit in seven straight playoff games dating back to the 2007 conference finals. The Cavaliers have held Detroit below 100 points in 14 of the last 16 playoff games.
Cleveland won despite shooting 4-of-22 from three-point range. They won the game though by limiting the Pistons to 5-of-17 shooting in the fourth quarter, a period in which James scored 11 points.
The Pistons have won seven straight first-round series, but are now in danger of going out in the opening round for the first time since 2000. They haven't been swept since 2003 when the New Jersey Nets accomplished the feat in the conference finals.
Game 4 is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (et), again at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
"There's no such thing as easy when the playoffs start," said James. "To be up 3-0 is a great feeling, but it's not easy. I wish I could say it was easy, but it's not."
Will Bynum's bucket tied the game at 58 for the Pistons with just over 10 minutes left, but Smith scored Cleveland's next seven points, staking the visitors to a 65-60 edge. It was all part of the 18-2 run, which was highlighted by a James alley-oop jam off a feed from Williams to give the Cavs a 73-60 cushion. Ilgauskas then buried a three-pointer for the 16-point margin with nearly 4 1/2 minutes left.
Arron Afflalo's layup marked Detroit's lone offense during the stretch, and the Pistons never got within double digits the rest of the way.
"It's killing me just the same old fact is you knew how great you were and being down 0-3 and being the eighth seed," said Hamilton. "Watching them celebrate after shot after shot and you're down 10, down 12...it's hard."
It was a much different story in the first quarter, as Detroit scored the opening eight points, capped by a Tayshaun Prince three-pointer. But the Cavs rallied and tied the game at 18 after 12 minutes as Smith's hook shot represented the final points of the period.
Cleveland used a 13-2 run in the second to push ahead, 40-31. as two free throws from James capped the push. The visitors led 44-37 at the half.
Detroit started the third quarter on a 12-2 run. Hamilton gave the hosts the lead at 47-46. Kwame Brown culminated the rally with a pair of free throws with four minutes left.
The seesaw battle continued, though, as Smith tipped in a shot and then hit two free throws for a 52-49 Cleveland lead.
Detroit shot 38 percent from the field...Ilgauskas also had six rebounds and three blocks...The Cavs guard combination of Williams and Delonte West went 1-of-18 from the field...Cleveland finished 41.2 percent from the floor.