Trailing by 16 near the halfway mark in the fourth quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers (29-44, 13-24 away) started to come to life on both sides of the ball. After playing stifling defense on the Detroit Pistons (26-45) down the stretch, Cleveland ended the game on an impressive 14-2 run over the final 5:15. The most important of those 14 points came with 3.2 seconds left in the game and the Cavs down by one. Over the arm of Brandon Stuckey, Dion Waiters stepped just inside the arc following an inbounds pass to deliver the Cavaliers a 97-97 victory and extend their winning streak to three games.
Cleveland started off the contest slow, however, allowing Josh Smith to knock down his signature jump shots and again struggling to protect the perimeter on defense. Following a 16-7 Pistons start to the game, Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown called for time to rally the troops. However, Cleveland continued to stay cold from three, while Detroit continued to fire away long-range shots. The Pistons converted on their first four attempts and sprinted out to a 33-24 first quarter start.
Although the Cavs attempted 12 free throws in the first frame, they weren’t very efficient at making good on those situations. Only hitting six of the 12 free shots hindered the Cavs offense, which only shot a hair under 40 percent from the field to begin with. Cleveland wasn’t able to get anything going from outside, but also almost every attempt to penetrate the lane ended in failure. Tough effort after tough effort finally resulted in the Pistons defense bending a little bit. With just over five minutes left in the half, Cleveland was able to knot up the game at 37. Heading into the half Detroit and Cleveland traded shots back and forth, combining to shoot nine for 12 to finish the half. Kyle Singler got the last laugh, however, making good on a three-pointer to put the Pistons up 51-50 heading into the final 24 minutes.
Cleveland came out somewhat flat to start the second half, letting Detroit jump out to an early 14-4 run. Things continued to go downhill for the Cavaliers in the third quarter, and Cleveland called a timeout at the end of the run in an attempt to regroup. That unfortunately did not happen right away, and the Wine & Gold continued to let Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe dictate the game.
Because of the continued dominance of the Cavs by Drummond and Monroe the Cavaliers found themselves heading into the final quarter down 82-66. If Cleveland was going to make an attempt to dismantle the Pistons at home, it needed to come out with a plan of attack that did not waste too much time in the final quarter.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the contest, Jonas Jerebko put what seemed like an exclamation point on a Detroit breakaway with a dunk to put his team back up by 16 once again. But Cleveland wasn’t about to go entirely away after going on a 5-0 mini run that put the Cavs in a position to pounce back on Detroit like they were near the end of the second quarter.
The Wine & Gold continued to chip away at Detroit’s lead, extending the 5-0 run to 15-5 to cut the Pistons’ hold on the Cavs to six. Following a Jarrett Jack three-pointer, Cleveland forced a Detroit timeout with 2:19 remaining in the game and down 96-90. The stops continued to come on defense for the Cavs as well, and Cleveland responded almost every time down the floor with less than two minutes to go. After forcing Smith into an off-balanced shot on Detroit’s second-to-last possession, Cleveland stopped Brandon Jennings on the next Pistons attempt following an out of bounds call on the Cavs.
But with three seconds remaining in the game, the Cavaliers did have one last attempt to try to come back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. After a first failed attempt at inbounding the ball, Cleveland called a timeout to reorganize on the sideline. The next play was golden, as Luol Deng found Waiters in the corner for the long two-point winner.
Cleveland will continue their uphill march at the playoffs with a Friday night visit to the Barclays Center to face the Brooklyn Nets (37-33). Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
PG Jarrett Jack – 17 points, while shooting 7 of 15 (46.7 percent) from the field
Jack continues to be the fill-in point guard that the Cavaliers need to finish off the season strong (possibly) without Kyrie Irving. He showed real poise down the stretch against the Pistons in another hard-fought victory for Cleveland. His decision-making has been so much better over the second half of the season than it was when Jack initially came to Cleveland. It’s a relief to know we have a veteran point guard we can rely on now.
SG Dion Waiters – 18 points, four assists and four rebounds, while shooting 8 of 20 (40.0 percent) from the field
Dion continues to play out of his mind without Kyrie in the lineup. Even though he wasn’t extremely effective over the first three quarters, Waiters came alive in the final frame and delivered the Cavs the game-winner over Stuckey. You couldn’t ask for a better past six games from Dion. He’s been absolutely on fire when placed in the starting lineup. I think he deserves to call that spot his own.
SF Luol Deng – Seven points, six rebounds and four assists, while shooting 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from the field
Deng continues to have hot and cold nights from the field, and this was a cold night. Although his presence on the court helped the Cavaliers down the stretch despite almost blowing it on another inbounds play, Deng needs to be a more consistent contributor for the Cavs over these next nine games if they really want to shock those counting Cleveland out already.
PF Tristan Thompson – Six points and six rebounds, while shooting 0 of 3 from the field and 6 of 10 from the free throw line
I was predicting that the Cavaliers frontcourt was going to come into this game with a chip on their shoulder after being berated by the likes of Drummond and Monroe the past couple of seasons. However, after a dominant performance on the boards against the Toronto Raptors, Thompson was ineffective down low, which did not aid Hawes’ long-range game any bit.
C Spencer Hawes – Four points and six rebounds, while shooting 2 of 4 from the field
The Cavs needed the opposite of what happened down low against the Pistons to happen if they wanted to come away with their third straight victory. Because of Smith’s hot hand from the perimeter, the Detroit offense was able to make quick work of the Cavaliers early on. It wasn’t until the third quarter when the trio of Smith, Drummond and Monroe started to push Cleveland around. Hawes was one of my key players for tonight’s game, and him not showing up led to the Detroit successes discussed above. Luckily Cleveland was able to pull this one off in the long run.
SG Matthew Dellavedova – 21 points and six assists, while shooting 7 of 9 (77.8 percent) from the field and 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) from three
Dellavedova rose off the bench as an offensive star when his starting teammates were struggling, and that’s the exact sparkplug the Cavs needed in order to make a run at the Pistons in the fourth quarter. His terrific three-point shooting and wonderful court presence opened up many lanes for his teammates, both figuratively and literally.
Only trailing by one point at halftime, I was looking to play close attention to Brown’s halftime adjustements; or if he was going to make any. With Smith having a hot hand in the first half and the absence of a complete breakdown happening down low on defense, I was curious to see if Brown would have any answers for Smith without letting the Detroit frontcourt run loose. He didn’t. But the worse part was that Brown didn’t change his gameplan against Drummond or Monroe when they started to break loose in the third quarter. However, Brown held his team together over the final five minutes of the game, and that’s somethting we’re not used to seeing from him. I would say this was one of Brown’s most impressive coaching finishes to a game. Not a strong start by any means, though.