Cavaliers Turn Up Second-Half Defense, Find the Love to Defeat Pistons 103-92

After a couple of blowout victories, the Cavaliers faced their first post-break test and passed with flying colors, defeating the Detroit Pistons 102-93 behind a smothering second-half defense and game-long hot 3-point shooting. Kevin Love was huge in that respect, going 8-14 from the arc, including four of five during a key six-minute stretch in the third quarter when the Cavs turned a 14-point deficit into a 3-point lead with a 20-3 run.

In the fourth, Coach David Blatt made another quirky rotation switch up that involved (again) playing Jones as a “Stretch 4” with LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova, a lineup that has spent eleven minutes all year on the court together counting last night's six-minute run.

That lineup gave up baskets to John Lucas and Greg Monroe in the first couple minutes of the quarter, then held the Pistons scoreless for five minutes. During this time the Pistons missed nine shots, 7 of them within 7’ of the basket, and made one turnover.

After Iman Shumpert’s quarter-opening 3, the offense consisted of two LeBron layups, two free throws and a James Jones three – over nearly seven minutes. It was just LeBron driving and catch-and-shoot 3s which looked even less dynamic than it was, if that’s even possible. Which is to say, while my hat’s off to Coach Blatt for an inspired lineup that shut down the Pistons, that was one of the most painful offensive stretches to watch in the last month.

Here’s hoping we don’t see that lineup again. While it does boast the third best defense in the last 15 games allowing 77.2 points/100 possessions, only two lineups have produced less offense (94.3): Mozgov-Tristan-Lebron-JR-Kyrie (88 off/129 def, 25 min) and Tristan-Love-Shumpert-JR-Kyrie (87/98, 41 min). For reference, the starting lineup is 120/91.5 over the last 15 games in 179 minutes, the fourth-best defensive lineup and fourth best offensive one for the Cavs. (The differential is third among lineups with at least 100 minutes behind two Golden State lineups.)

Playing that hybrid lineup kept Kevin Love off the floor for much of the fourth quarter, but in the nine minutes of court time he saw after hitting his fourth 3 he got one shot up and barely touched the ball.

While Love seems happy contributing in other ways, and playing much better defense, it’s still troubling how easily the attention strays from him even on nights when he has a hot hand. Especially on a night when LeBron was 6-14 from the field and had 9 turnovers (8 bad passes, counting the tipped one the rotten officials called over and back) to go with his 11 assists, many caused by James trying to do too much.

This, of course, is nothing new. Kevin Love often gets lost in the second half, and the inconsistent touches appear to hurt his numbers. He’s taking 60% of his shots (8 of 13/gm) in the first half, shooting 46% from the field and 39% from 3. In the second half it’s 39% and 31%, and even worse on the road in the second half, a putrid 34% and 29%. It’s been even more pronounced the last 15 games, with his 2nd half shots dropping by a third from 5.1 to 3.8, while his first half shots held steady. The splits during that time are (FG%/3%) 46.5/44.7, 8.1 shots (1st half), 37.7/37.5, 3.8 shots.

I don’t have an answer, but getting Love more and better touches in the second half, particularly on the road, might help.

In the scheme of how they’re playing it’s a relatively small matter, honestly. So long as Kyrie and LeBron are on, Love isn’t much needed. But when Irving and James are having off-nights like they were, it’d be nice to see them defer more consistently to Love, who is a premium force in his own right when properly watered.

The other thing worth noting from last night’s game was the way they turned up the intensity in the second half. While nobody gets any medals for a second quarter that yielded 35 points to the Pistons, they turned around and allowed only 31 second half points and under 30% FG% for the half including 21% in the Pistons’ 12-point third.

The fact that the team was able to catch itself was encouraging. So too was the first appearance of Kendrick Perkins in a Cavaliers uniform. Perk got some burn because TMo found himself again in first half foul trouble. However, this time Blatt had another big guy besides Tristan Thompson to go to. He only played a couple minutes, but it was good to see the depth in action and he even scored.

There were a number of odd things about the game some of which could be credited to the ever-savvy Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy. For example, the Cavs managed only four offensive rebounds all game. Part of that is playing James Jones for 7 minutes at the “4” and part of it is simply the Pistons’ size. After being outrebounded 26-18 in the first half, the Cavs closed the margin by outrebounding Detroit in the second half 22-20.

Some other things: Tristan only had 3 rebounds for the second straight game and no offensive boards. Just an anomaly? JR Smith only played 22 minutes (in part due to foul troubles, but perhaps also for Shumpert’s D) and took but 4 shouts. Nonetheless Smith still got 3 steals, his fourth game in the last eight where he’s had 3 or more steals. Kyrie Irving failed to convert a three-pointer for the first time since the Jan. 15 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers which kicked off the present 17 of 19 run.

The way the team came out with lackluster energy you can’t help but wonder if they weren’t looking ahead to the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night. The Warriors have only lost ten times all season, have the best record in the NBA and lead in many offensive and defensive categories.

They’re in the midst of a murderous road stretch (12 of 15 on the road) and have lost three of those road contests already (Jazz, Hawks, Pacers). Their ability to stretch the floor makes them a very difficult cover, and like the Cavs they like the clear the lane for drive & dish forays. This is an obvious potential Finals matchup. Nobody’s hotter than these two teams (though Memphis is close).

I’ll be at the game tweeting with video of the action on Thursday. Follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne. You can read my post-game column Friday here on the Scene blog and find all my writing at
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