The Detroit Pistons took three of four games from the Cleveland Cavaliers during the regular season. Clearly aware of the past as potential prologue, LeBron James and company made darn sure the Pistons didn’t even get a whiff of a win in their first-round pairing.
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James’ Cavs took Game 4 on Sunday evening by a 100-98 score, sweeping Detroit in the Pistons’ first visit to the postseason in seven years. James notched his third double-double of the series with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it was point guard Kyrie Irving whp led Cleveland in both scoring and swagger with a team-high 31 points, and a late 3-pointer that gave the Cavs a 100-96 advantage with 43 seconds remaining. It was Irving’s fourth three of the game.
The Pistons were paced by hybrid forward Marcus Morris, who led the team with 24 points (12 in the second quarter alone) while working in front of his twin brother (and Washington Wizards forward) Markieff, who was situated in the front of the Detroit stands. Reggie Jackson acted as the straw that stirred the drink for Detroit, however, though his attempt at drawing a three-shot foul on Irving at the game’s final buzzer was rightfully ignored. Jackson finished with 13 points and 12 assists, but he turned the ball over five times.
Quick and efficient starts drove the Cavaliers into the second round. Forward Kevin Love missed 12 of 15 shots on the night, but he pulled in nine rebounds in the first quarter alone while finishing with 13 overall. The third quarter saw Irving toss in ten points in the first four minutes of play, and an 8-0 run between the third and fourth quarters (with Irving hitting a halfcourt shot at the final buzzer at the end of the third) helped Cleveland keep the hometown team at arm’s length.
Detroit didn’t help itself much in the fourth quarter, missing six straight field goals (all three-pointers) from the 8:36 mark until the 4:30 slot before a Tobias Harris trey pulled the team within six points. The team competed, but it could not get in the way of Cleveland’s series of back-breakers. Cavs guard J.R. Smith nailed 5-7 3-pointers in the win, all seemingly coming on the end of broken plays that the Pistons appeared to have sussed out.
Working small for most of the evening (even with center Andre Drummond suiting up for Detroit, Cavs big man Timofey Mozgov did not suit up for the second straight game), the Cavs made a point not to beat themselves. Cleveland turned the ball over just five times, and though it only registered 10 offensive rebounds in 52 chances, the squad nearly kept twice as many possessions alive in spite of Detroit’s size advantage.
The Hack-a-Drummond strategy was employed on Detroit’s All-Star center, but he did finish the night hitting a respectable 5-10 from the stripe. “Respectable” comes in relative terms, because after missing 18 of 24 freebies to begin the series, the Pistons had to be happy with what they got. And, if you exclude the fourth quarter malaise that saw Detroit shoot up an ohfer in six tries, the Pistons nailed 10-18 from long range.
Detroit could never turn the corner, however, working against a Cavalier team that is clearly growing on a public stage.
The 31-point outing from Kyrie Irving leaves him with a 27.5 average in what has been his first healthy postseason trip. And though Kevin Love struggled with his shot in Game 4, he entered the game averaging 21.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in his first three contests, and his presence clearly shifted the Piston defensive view all evening. Starting center Tristan Thompson “only” grabbed three offensive rebounds and five in total, but he was a ball-hawking force throughout.
Toss in timely shooting from Smith and reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova (who scored Cleveland’s first five points in the fourth), and you have quite the formidable rotation. With LeBron James able to scan the field rather than scorching the court with his scoring, the Cavs were able to keep a very good Piston team on its heels, and the Cavs should be applauded for not giving in to the temptation of a gentleman’s sweep.
With Boston’s win just prior to Cleveland’s series-ender, the Cavs earned themselves some time off and the ability to watch Atlanta (the Cavs’ third round foe from 2015) and the Celtics duke it out for another four days at the minimum.
This is what top seeds are supposed to do. It was Cleveland’s job to remind us that the regular season was ever so long ago, and in not letting the Pistons come up for air the Cavaliers altered us that this outfit is hardly a championship also-ran. The East stays in the picture.
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