In some sense, last night’s 112-110 overtime loss to the Pistons was one of the most enjoyable games of the year, mainly because it mattered the least. With first seed secured starters sat, and it was like an exhibition game, if you had a cheat code to bypass the regular season.
It wasn’t a well-played game, but nobody cared because it was mostly the second and third-teamers all night. It featured the game of young Jordan McRae’s life, and the first NBA game time of the year for 35-year old Dahntay Jones, who played 122 minutes last year for the Clippers after being signed from the D-League earlier in the day.
It was a game for appreciating the fans and kicking the feet up for a few minutes before the playoffs start against these same Pistons this weekend. Best of all, it actually turned into an exciting game when McRae, the aforementioned Jones and James Jones helped stage a fourth quarter rally from a ten-point deficit.
The trio scored 25 of the team’s 31 points in the quarter, led by McRae’s 11, including the game-tying three. Drafted by the San Antonio Spurs two years ago, the 6’5” former Volunteer played the point in an aggressive fashion reminiscent of Kyrie Irving, hoisting up 29 shots for 36 points. McRae nearly sent it into a second overtime after drawing a foul on a three attempt with less than a second left in overtime. However he missed two of the three free throws.
He was probably a little tired. He played 46 minutes for Canton the night before, and 47 last night. However he certainly showed some ability to score at the rack, some passing skills (7 assists, 5 turnovers) and good length, which especially helped him in finishing amidst the sea of arms.
The addition of Jones is not too surprising. There was some thought that that team could add former Duke PG and D-League Rookie of the Year Quinn Cook to the squad. But the team must believe that Mo Williams will come back during the playoffs.
In the meantime Jones fills the hole at swingman. He’s got good length (6’6”), some three-skill (33% career, 41% this year in D-League), and has a reputation as a good defender, though that was years ago. He finished with 13 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 42 minutes.
The other thing worth noting was a solid performance by Timofey Mozgov who had a double-double in the second half (10 points, 10 rebounds), finishing with 14 points (7-12 FG), 12 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
Tristan Thompson started the game and lasted four seconds before Lue pulled him, preserving Thompson’s consecutive games streak.
We pondered breaking down the Cavs season and assigning letter grades or what not. But the more we thought about it, the less sense it made. Why waste time obsessing over a regular season characterized by ever changing rotations (thanks to injuries, roster and coaching changes) and vacillating intensity.
If the Cavaliers are serious about the playoffs, they’ll showcase better focus and energy on defense than they have. If that’s the case, what we’ve seen won’t be that applicable. And if they don’t turn up the defense, it’s hard to imagine them winning the title.
So we’ve chosen to treat the regular season much like the Cavaliers, as a necessary burden and expense which now that we’re past, we can pretty much forget.
What happens next is all that matters.
Preliminary Playoff Preview
We definitely feel the playoffs don’t begin until a home team loses, and the same could be said of series’. We expect the Cavaliers to dispatch the Pistons at home without too much difficulty. Tobias Harris can only dream of Chill Mode in the face of LeBron’s Tasmanian Devil attack. The vultures will pick over what’s left.
Love has done his best scoring this season against the Pistons, with 72 points in 3 games, though they lost two of those games. The two losses Reggie Jackson scored 46 points and handed out 16 assists. In the Cavaliers victory, he was held to 15 and 6.
Though many might think that Drummond’s size requires someone like Mozgov, Thompson has started both prior Lue-coached games against the Pistons, getting clobbered in the home loss (0 pts, 6 boards, -22 +/- vs. 16 & 10, +7 by Drummond), and putting up great numbers (11 pts, 14 boards, +16 vs. 20 & 8, -21) in the win.
Another matchup to watch is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on J.R. Smith. Pope is known for his defensive skills and has held Smith to 28 points in three games while scoring 51 himself, including 38 the last two games.
Watch the benches. The Cavaliers don’t have much firepower on their bench, but neither do the Pistons. Over the last three games (aside from last night), the Pistons bench has barely outscored the Cavaliers 46-45. Keeping the Pistons bench from getting going will go a good way in ensuring a Cavaliers victory.
The final thing to watch is the paint. The Cavaliers have lost the points in the paint to the Pistons in all three games by a total of 32 points. The margin of the Cavaliers one victory over the Pistons (in Detroit) was the 27 FTs they made versus the Piston’s 19 makes in a 114-106 Cleveland victory. The Cavs also had a +11 advantage on the boards in that game. The Pistons beat the Cavaliers on the boards in their two wins by 6 and 10 rebounds.
Stan Van Gundy is a smart coach and when leading the Magic was a big proponent of the 3-ball. He’ll know how to defend the Cavs 3-pointers (34.5% in three games vs. 36.2% on season), and will try to exploit Kyrie Irving’s defense with Reggie Jackson’s penetration. However Jackson has had a groin strain and may not be 100%, which could definitely make a difference.
The Pistons aren’t very deep. If the Cavs can stifle their bench, Detroit may find themselves hard-pressed to match the Cavaliers starters’ scoring skills. They won’t be the pushover many expect, but we also think the Cavaliers will be more dialed in than anyone expects.
We think the Cavaliers can sweep though we expect both games in Detroit to be hard-fought. We wouldn’t be surprised to see them steal a game, or even two, though we really feel the Wine and Gold are going to find another gear for the playoffs, one they haven’t shown yet.
The Cavaliers playoffs don’t start until Sunday with a home game against the Pistons, followed by a Wednesday game against Detroit. We’ll be at both games, posting video, commentary and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne and read our playoff postgame analysis here in the Scene & Heard blog.