AUBURN HILLS, MICH. — 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.
He passed and the decision backfired.
James passed to Donyell Marshall, who missed a wide-open three-point attempt 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."
Chauncey Billups chased down the rebound of Marshall's miss, and he later 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, on five-for-15 shooting, 10 rebounds and fell just short of a triple-double with nine assists. He had no free-throw attempts.
"Everywhere he went, he had three guys in his face," Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter said. "We have to keep that up all series."
James took only three shots in the fourth quarter -- making one -- and defended the decision.
"You just have to take what's there," said James, whose previous playoff low was 18 points. "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 three-pointer that gave the Pistons a 78-76 lead with 1:52 left.
Detroit's Richard Hamilton scored 24 points.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers.