LeBron James dribbled at the top of the key, drove toward the basket and everybody watching in person and on TV probably thought he was going to shoot.
Instead, he dished off -- and his decision backfired.
James passed off to Donyell Marshall, who missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left that allowed the Detroit Pistons to escape with a 79-76 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I go for the winning play," James said. "The winning play when two guys come at you and a teammate is open is to give it up. It's as simple as that."
Marshall, who had six threes in Cleveland's Game 6 win over New Jersey in the conference semifinals, took the miss in stride.
"You're going to make some and you're going to miss some," he said. "Unfortunately, that one was to win the game."
"I'd take that 100 times out of 100," he said.
Chauncey Billups chased down the long rebound of Marshall's miss from the corner and then made one of two free throws with 2.4 seconds left.
James was scoreless in the first quarter and finished with a playoff-low 10 points and 10 rebounds and fell just short of a triple-double with nine assists. Despite frequent contact, James didn't attempt one free throw.
Tayshaun Prince played chest-to-chest defense against James when he didn't have the ball and had plenty of help when the 22-year-old star did.
"Everywhere he went, he had three guys in his face," Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter said. "We have to keep that up all series."
Game 2 is tomorrow night at The Palace before the series shifts to Cleveland.
James took just three shots in the fourth quarter.
"You just have to take what's there," said James, who was averaging 26 points in the playoffs on an average of 19 shots. "It's not about taking a high volume of shots, it's about trying to win the basketball game. We had an opportunity to win."
Billups scored 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter, making all three of his shots including a 3-pointer that gave the Pistons a 78-76 lead with 1:52 left.
The point guard closed strong offensively in what was an unusually sloppy game with seven turnovers and five assists.
"We played bad enough to lose this game, no question about it," Billups said. "I think the sign of a really good team is you've got to win ugly games. We did just that. It could have went the other way, but we're up 1-0."
Detroit's Richard Hamilton contributed 24 points and had seven assists, while Rasheed Wallace had 15 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks. Chris Webber scored 10 points and Prince added eight points and a playoff career-high nine assists.
Prince was on James on the Cavaliers' play that ended with Marshall's shot.
"I thought [James] was going for the shot," Wallace said. "But Tay was all over him and he got that pass off somehow."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs, taking advantage of James' pass-first strategy.
Larry Hughes and reserve Anderson Varejao each scored 13 points. Starting guards Sasha Pavlovic and Hughes combined for 21 points on 8-of-27 shooting
James, whose previous playoff low was 18 points, was outscored by five of his teammates until he made two straight shots toward the end of the third quarter.
"If he makes the pass and they score we'll live with it," Hamilton said.