The Cleveland Cavaliers (24-54) did not deserve to be close enough to the Detroit Pistons (27-52) near the end of the game taken the way they guarded the Detroit big men down low on Wednesday night. In the first quarter the Pistons scored 28 points, 24 of which were tallied in the paint. I’m not trying to take away anything from the Motown warriors – a team that ranks first in the Eastern Conference in points per game in the paint – but it was an excruciating sight watching every shot from rookie center Andre Drummond end in a dunk. Drummond, who finished with a game-high 29 points and 11 rebounds, converted on 10 of his 11 slam attempts. Even with the Cavaliers applying hack after hack on the 34.4 percent free throw shooter near the game’s close, bad decisions in crunch time led to the eventual 111-104 defeat that the Wine and Gold suffered at home to their Central Division counterparts. This contest completed the season sweep for Detroit – four games that the Pistons outscored the Cavs by a combined 42 points. The loss also dropped the Cavaliers to 3-13 within their division, which will be the worst or tied for the worst mark in the Association.
As already mentioned, Cleveland was mutilated in the paint from the game’s onset. It didn’t help that Detroit came out with a lot of energy, leading to six first-quarter fast break points. The effort was heralded by Detroit bigs Greg Monroe and Drummond, who combined to shoot 8-of-10 for 16 points in the first frame. Tyler Zeller was ineffective early on, Alonzo Gee went missing yet again and Kyrie Irving wasn’t in the ankle-breaking mood being matched up across from point guard Brandon Knight. Irving’s shooting game went flat yet again, as he only converted on one of his five attempts from the field in the first half. The miracle that was keeping Cleveland in this game goes by the name of Tristan Thompson – the workhorse for the Wine and Gold as of late. Thompson’s 11 points and six rebounds paced the Cavs and somewhat countered Cleveland’s transparent defense. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds on the night.
Coming out in the second quarter with a lineup consisting of Dion Waiters (who returned for the first time since mid-March off the bench), Omri Casspi, Kevin Jones, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights, it looked as if things were going to go up in flames even though Cleveland was just down four points after 12 minutes of play. Detroit came out with their reserves as well, but quickly subbed in Drummond to take advantage of the Wine and Gold set. Fans saw the opposite of what I thought would quickly lead to an implosion, as players like Jones made the most out of their minutes by playing smart basketball. The rookie power forward finished with eight points and six rebounds, but his basket awareness and shifty eyes allowed him to get in place for those boards before a Pistons player had the chance to think where they should be positioned. The unselfish play from the aforementioned unit allowed Cleveland to go on a 19-6 run to start the quarter, but the problem all season long has been finishing strong and setting up the team with momentum for the second act. With less than six minutes remaining in the period, Cleveland folded as Detroit went on an 18-6 run to take a 53-49 advantage going into the half.
Still, things should have been a lot worse than how they actually were. Zeller and Gee were ghosts, as their 23 total minutes of play merited zero points and one rebound. Rodney Stuckey went off for 14 points and five assists, while Monroe and Drummond tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting and accounted for most of the 34 points in the paint. Detroit ended up finished with 60 points in the paint, which was a ridiculous number considering that accounted for more than half of their final score. Thompson sought help to counter this onslaught from the bench in order to stay in the game, as Waiters, Casspi and Jones contributed 19 points.
But Drummond continued his dominance of Cleveland’s defense in the second half by continuing to visit the paint with ease. He shoots 70.8 percent at the rim on the season, but there was no stopping the former UConn star on Wednesday. Zeller and Thompson couldn’t play physical enough down low to bring Monroe and Drummond more outside in an uncomfortable zone. Zeller was pushed around and Tristan was receiving minimal help. Still (again), Cleveland was pulled back into the game once again late in the third quarter. In the final 15 or so minutes of play, Kyrie Irving became the superhero we haven’t seen in a while: Mr. Clutch aka Mr. Fourth Quarter. 19 points were scored within that time frame, but not even all the missed Drummond free throws in the world were enough to take home the W at home. Irving finished with a team-high 27 points and nine assists.
This one really stings, taken that it was against a team that Cleveland “should” beat, even though they haven’t beaten them once this season. With four games left on the schedule, things can’t get that much worse. We’ll see on Friday, when the red-hot New York Knicks come to town for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.