Detroit Pistons defensive wizard Tayshaun Prince, all 215 pounds of him, smashed into an immovable, 7-foot-3, 260-pound object named Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Cleveland Cavaliers big man planted himself adjacent to Prince with the explicit purpose of preventing him from tracking a precocious 21-year-old LeBron James.
This time the culprit was the springy Anderson Varejao, a 6-foot-10 landmine designed to knock off the lanky Prince and free James, who was navigating his maiden postseason voyage in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Prince was a long-armed forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan who gained notoriety when he chased down and blocked a seemingly uncontested layup by Reggie Miller that would have sealed Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference finals. Additional plaudits were heaped on after he guarded Kobe Bryant that June in the Finals and helped lead Detroit to a championship.
Two years later, after James overwhelmed the Washington Wizards in the first round by averaging 35.7 points, Prince shadowed James from end line to end line, relinquishing perimeter looks to stymie drives to the basket. The strategy was a sound one, as James shot just 27.6% from behind the 3-point line in the series.
"At that time, LeBron wasn't a great shooter, so we could lay off him a bit," Prince says. "But they ran so many pick-and-rolls to get him open, it became a tough task to stay in front of him. I was giving up 40 pounds and getting pounded on screens from Ilgauskas and Varejao every time down the floor."
James' attacks into the paint required constant communication with a Pistons defense anchored by Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace (no relation) -- the back line needed to stay alert so those players could sag and clog the middle to force James to give up the ball. It was an exhausting assignment.
"I played the most minutes of anyone on our team because LeBron was playing dang near most of the game," says Prince, who logged 43.2 minutes per night. James averaged 45.9 minutes.
The Cavaliers fell behind 2-0, but James, who averaged 26.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists, willed his team back into contention, leading Cleveland to three wins and a Game 7. The veteran Pistons, including Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, chided themselves for taking their foot off the accelerator.