CLEVELAND -- The kid came up big. LeBron James did, too.
And the Cleveland Cavaliers are as close as they've ever been to an NBA title.
James scored 25 points -- 13 in the fourth quarter -- and rookie Daniel Gibson added a season-high 21 as the Cavaliers evened the Eastern Conference finals with a 91-87 victory over Detroit last night.
The 21-year-old Gibson made 12 of 12 free throws, Drew Gooden added 19 points, and Eric Snow hit a crucial free throw in the final seconds as the Cavaliers moved within two victories of their first trip to the finals.
James, criticized for his fourth-quarter failures in Games 1 and 2 at Detroit, commanded the floor in the final 12 minutes. He went 4 for 6 from the field, 5 for 5 from the line, and added four rebounds and three assists.
"I told my teammates, 'Get me to the fourth and it's close, and I'll try my best to win,' " James said.
The Cavaliers, who lost a seven-game series to Detroit last year, are making just their third visit to the conference finals and each time they've been tied 2-2 before losing in six games.
When he was drafted, James promised to bring the championship-starved city its first title since 1964, and he's closing in on one quicker than anyone expected.
"The series is a lot better being 2-2 than 3-1 and going back to Detroit," James said. "I had to be aggressive in the fourth quarter and step up."
Chauncey Billups scored 23 points, Rip Hamilton 19, and Tayshaun Prince 15 for the Pistons, who needed last-second wins to go up 2-0 in the series and are suddenly the team looking for answers. Their frustration boiled over in the fourth when Rasheed Wallace was whistled for a technical during a 9-0 Cleveland run.
In the final minutes, it was the more-experienced Pistons who couldn't come up with the big play. With Detroit down, 88-85, Wallace blocked a shot in the lane, but Billups rushed a 3-pointer that missed. On Cleveland's next possession, Snow, who only played 1:05, got fouled following a scramble for a loose ball.
Snow's free throw put the Cavaliers ahead by 4 before Antonio McDyess's tip-in got the Pistons within 89-87 with 4.7 seconds left.
James was fouled, and Cleveland's superstar calmly knocked down both foul shots to make it 91-87 with four seconds remaining.
The Cavaliers got an emotional lift from Larry Hughes, who played 17 minutes despite tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot Monday. But it was Gibson who helped them tie up the series. Gibson, who was expected to start if Hughes couldn't, came off the bench and scored 11 points as the Cavaliers built a 50-43 at the break.
Gibson spent hours in his Houston backyard practicing Billups's fadeaway jumper, and in the second quarter, he stuck one just like one of his NBA heroes.
"I just tried to step up and do some of those things [Billups] does," Gibson said.