Better Horsepower Guides Cavaliers Past Pistons

If this were an early Bruce Springsteen song, the Cavaliers would own the Pistons pink slip, after outracing them to a 114-106 victory. The screen door slammed and Detroit was left waving from the front porch.

While it’s an open question whether the Cavs can play enough defense to beat the NBA’s elite teams, they demonstrated last night that even at 75% their offense is a load worthy of William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

It’s evident in the fact the Cavaliers dominated much of the game but didn’t force the 20 turnovers for 30 points they did Wednesday against Phoenix, nor did they hit an extraordinary number of threes (9-23).

Despite this, the Cavaliers were able to get up the court and create more possessions. This helps in because their better offensive efficiency helps them create bigger leads going into the fourth quarter (see, Golden State). Indeed the Cavaliers led by 18 at the end of three before surrender some of that in the fourth quarter.

The ball movement was very good in the early going, but diminished as the game went on. The Cavaliers had 12 first-half assists on 21 buckets. In the second half that shrunk back to 8 assists on 18 buckets.

The Cavaliers adrenalized pace was definitely apparent in the first half as the team scored 66 points. The Cavaliers only forced two first half turnovers, but still got to the line 21 times, and shot 48% from the field, including 5-12 (42%) from the boundary.

As has been the case, the quicker pace seemed to be accompanied by less intense defensive effort. While the team doesn’t seem to get beat up the court (Detroit had 13 fastbreak points to Cavs' 11), the Pistons were able to create opportunities with transition offense before the Cavaliers got set, particularly in the first half.

“We know we have to do a better job on the defensive end and that’s everybody, 1 through 15,” said Kevin Love after the game. “Our coaching staff is really putting us in the right position. That’s really our main focus because when we do that and whether it’s a miss or a make we get out on transition, we’re devastating on that end.”

The promised increased offensive focus on Love was in full effect, taking a team-leading 10 first half shots (3-5 from three) and going a perfect 6-6 from the line. He finally really looked like a focal point, and even though he only had six second half shots, he finished the team's lead scorer with 29 including 5 of 7 from international waters.

Kyrie showed the ability to turn the corner on the pick-and-roll and finish, something missing the past few games. He knocked down several midrange jumpers and drives putting up 16 in the first half, including 6-7 from the line, without taking a single three. Of course, he only had one assist, so there’s that.

“We want to prove that every game we’re getting in better shape,” said Kyrie Love. “TLue is always saying how we have to get in better shape and tonight everyone had great possession and great looks, and being aggressive.”

Lue had mentioned in the last game his desire for the Cavaliers to get more free throws than threes, which they did 21-12 in the first half and 29 to 23 for the game.

A pretty good Cavaliers first half ended on a discordant note when the Cavaliers surrendered a layup to Reggie Jackson (15 pts, 6 ast) with six seconds left on the clock.

As they went to the locker room LeBron, Tristan and Kyrie could be seen discussing the defensive mistake. As you can see below, it would appear to be LeBron’s fault, unless Tristan was supposed to be able to defend the point guard without help. But what do we know?
We’d feel much better about such diligence if it seemed to be more a matter of accountability than blame, but hey, it’s still the Cavaliers’ putative preseason. (Certainly for new rookie coach Tyronn Lue.) They’ll find that peaceful, easy feeling with or without Glen Frey’s help, right? Right?

The Cavaliers put it to the Pistons in the third quarter running up an 18-point lead. Four different players had at least two buckets, as the starters put up 26 of the team’s 30 points while holding the Pistons to 40% shooting. Pistons center Andre Drummond was the only guy they couldn’t really stop in the quarter, as he got seven of the Pistons’ 20 points.

After a 17-8 Pistons run to close the Cavs lead to 106-97, the Wine and Gold responded. The Cavs found Kevin Love for a post-up bucket on the left block on an out-of-bounds play with a handful of seconds on the shot clock. A Kyrie steal and fastbreak take the other way pushed the lead to 110-97 and the team would not be seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Love led the team in scoring with 29 points, 19 in the first half. Despite disappearing from the offense at times in the second half, they went back to Love down the stretch, something we certainly didn’t see much of under Blatt.

Irving added 28 on perhaps his best shooting night of the (for him) adolescent season. He was 11-19, missed all three of his three attempts and added two assists against one turnover. His drive was there though he got more of his points off pull-up jumpers.

James added a relatively quiet 20 points and 8 assists, including six of the team’s 8 second half assists. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov did a fine job of battling Pistons big man Andre Drummond. He finished with 20 points but only 8 boards, as Thompson (14) and Mozgov (8) pounded the boards like Tim “Toolman” Taylor.

While the outcome many not have been as devastating as the Cavaliers would like, they did a lot of things right. Near 60% of their shots were uncontested (48 of 83) though they only shot 44% on those. (They shot 51% on their contested shots.)

Meanwhile, the defense made Detroit work for the baskets. The Pistons took a lot of contested shots (55 of 84, 65%) but hit them, making 46%. For the game, the Pistons shot better than the Cavaliers, with 48% field goal percentage.

Indeed, it’s a little surprising that Cavaliers could win so convincingly while not stopping the Pistons from making shots (they have a better shooting percentage than the Cavaliers), or even getting to the line. The entire difference in the game proved to be the Cavs going 27-29 from the free throw line while the Pistons only went 19-26.

“The things I thought hurt us were 29 free throw attempts, something we don’t normally do, fouled too much. Seventeen second-chance points, which we don’t normally give up,” said Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy. “Look, they played great offensively. When you’re playing really talented teams, playing really well, it’s going to be difficult.”

Even if it looked convincing than the stats suggested, there’s no complaints here. The Cavaliers are rounding into form and it they can look pretty good only playing a halfway decent game, we’ll take that as progress. Certainly was nice to see the Cavaliers open the game strongly and finish the first quarter that way as well.

“They scored a lot easier than we wanted to so we couldn’t get out and run like we wanted to but that’s going to come once we get our legs in shape and we can get more defensive stops,” said Coach Lue.

Next time out we’d like to see better defensive intensity all game long (when isn’t that true?), more consistent ball movement in the second half, and more hands in the passing lanes. If Cleveland’s really going to run they’re going to need to do a better job of creating steals and deflections than they have been.

That’s doubly true if they hope to bring this greater pace to the playoffs. It’s twice as hard to run in the postseason, and there won’t be so many easy opportunities. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. The Cavaliers still have to prove than can replicate any part of their game on a consistent basis.

Given the team’s recent improved offensive showing under Lue, perhaps that issue can be rotated down to the bottom of the deck.

Sorry for the abbreviated postgame analysis. We’ve got to drive back from Detroit tonight and get enough sleep to be ready to run it back tomorrow against the San Antonio Spurs. We’ll be at the Q, offering video, analysis and snark. You can follow us on Twitter @CRS_1ne. You can read our postgame analysis of the Spurs game on Sunday morning in the Scene blog. 
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