January comes to March: Cavs vs Pistons, Behind the Box Score

BtBS Behind the Box Score WFNY

Cleveland Cavaliers (42-21) 101
Detroit Pistons (32-33) 106
[Box Score]

Is it March or did we time travel back to January? You remember January, don’t you? It was that month when the Cleveland Cavaliers went 7-8 to give LeBron James his first losing month since 2006. A 9-2 February made most of us forget about January, but losing basketball has found its way back to Cleveland.

Visiting the Palace of Auburn Hills for the last time in the regular season, the Cavaliers were facing a Detroit Pistons team that just got hammered by the Pacers in Indiana the night before. Hoping to turn things around after a 1-3 start to March, the Cavaliers came out strong and built an early 15-point lead in the first quarter and things looked to be going well. But the Pistons came right back and hung in there through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, the Pistons smelled blood and took advantage of some lackluster-at-best defense and rebounding on part of the Cavaliers to take control of the game. Cleveland tried to make a late comeback, but it just wasn’t enough as the Pistons hung on for the 106-101 win.

Cleveland now falls to 1-4 in March. Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Cavaliers, either. March is an absolutely brutal schedule. This was the first game of a three-game road trip. They still have a four-game road trip after this trip, which means they have three road trips of at least three games in this month.

The good news, the Cavaliers welcomed JR Smith back after missing the previous 36 games with his fractured thumb. The bad news was JR clearly had a lot of rust. Combined with Kyle Korver being out with injury now, Kevin Love still not back from his knee surgery, and the malaise of Andrew Bogut’s stunning injury, and it just feels like a dark cloud is hanging over this team. Cleveland played with no energy or urgency in this game and they just didn’t seem to have much of anything going outside of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

Maybe the Cavaliers are just going to play well every other month. That means a bad March, a good April, a bad May, and if they survive that, a good June. Or maybe this is just a tired and beat up team going through a rough part of the schedule.

Anyway, let’s look at the numbers.

  • 29/13/10 – Might as well start with one of the few positives. LeBron James was great, as always, notching yet another triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. LeBron didn’t have his outside shot, going 0-6 from three-point range, but hey, outside Channing Frye, nobody could make an outside shot. But LeBron was a force in every other way. It sometimes can seem almost redundant trying to come up with new ways to talk about the impact LeBron has on a basketball game, so we just say LeBron was typically great.
  • 1 0 1 0 – As in, binary. As in, the Cleveland Cavaliers are a pretty binary team. Hot/cold, on/off. Kyrie Irving gets lots of assists at home, not so many on the road. The Cavs alternate playing well every other month. In this game, the Cavaliers were binary by quarter, winning the first quarter, losing the second, winning the third, and losing the fourth. The problem is they were +17 in the quarters they won and -22 in the quarters they lost.
  • 7 – The Detroit Pistons had seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, providing them with key second-chance opportunities. Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris had three each. The Pistons outrebounded the Cavaliers by a 19-7 margin overall in the fourth quarter. As mentioned previously, Cleveland’s energy and effort just weren’t there and the Cavs’ smaller lineup with Frye at center and LeBron at power forward wasn’t near effective enough at keeping the Pistons off the glass. The Pistons had six second-chance points in the fourth quarter, and that was enough to cover the margin of victory.
  • 3 – Only three Cavaliers scored in double digits in this game. This comes after their last game when only LeBron and Kyrie scored in double digits. While we were all celebrating all this depth the Cavaliers have, it has suddenly truly become a two-man team in March. LeBron led the way with 29, Kyrie had 27, and then Channing Frye had 15. Richard Jefferson had nine points and Iman Shumpert had eight. Nobody else scored more than four points.
  • 19 – JR Smith played 19 minutes in his first game back with the Cavaliers. It was great seeing JR back on the floor, but he was also painfully ineffective. He often looked tired and out of place, which isn’t surprising. We all knew it would take JR to get back into playing shape. So there’s nothing to be concerned about here. JR shot 1-8 from three and 1-9 from the floor overall. A rough shooting night for sure, but it’s nothing to worry about. It was just great having JR back and over time his game will come back to him as well.

It’s not fun starting the month off 1-4, but it’s important to remember there are a lot of factors at play here. Kevin Love is still out and Kyle Korver is trying to get over a sore foot issue. JR Smith needs to get back into playing shot and shake some rust (not to mention he’s been battling a little illness as well). Deron Williams is still trying to get fully acclimated with his new team (remember, it took Korver some time to get comfortable, too….these things take time). Cavaliers coach Ty Lue is still playing around with different lineups and looks and it definitely seems to be disrupting some of the comfort levels of the players on the floor as well. These are things that happen when you shake up the roster this late in the season.

How the Cavaliers are playing in March doesn’t matter. These growing pains are all worth it as long as guys get healthy and things are clicking come April. The Cavaliers travel to Orlando next to play the Magic on Saturday. The Cavaliers certainly would love to hang on to their two-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the top seed in the East, but nothing is more important than getting healthy and getting familiar and comfortable with each other on the floor. Saturday will be their next chance to make those strides.

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    The Cavs played last night?

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  • Harv

    As of last night the Cavs are no longer my happy place.Guys are new and unfamiliar, guys are getting into shape, there’s not enough practice time .. all undoubtedly true but not the truth.

    Beating inferior but well-coached teams that have the game circled on their calendars requires intensity. The Cavs simply cannot sustain any intensity even for a full game. A pretty pass for a dunk, a multiple ball swing for a pretty 3 gets them going until the opponent’s time out, and then the brown out. It’s like after the heroic intensity of the ’16 Finals, after the 3-1 comeback, there’s an assumption that the switch can be flipped when it’s really showtime. We can examine what’s happening on a granular level, but except for the injuries the root cause is lack of intensity. That’s why no one stops the guards waltzing into the lane, the pick and roll defense is horrible, opponents are shooting wide open 3s, defensive rebounds are bouncing in the lane. Sometimes it appears Kyrie and LeBron are trying to ignite themselves with highlight passes.

    Last year I questioned whether they could just turn on the defensive intensity for the playoffs. I was wrong – they certainly did. Maybe they’ll do it again this year. Maybe their takeaway from 2016 is that energy must be marshaled. But it sometimes looks like they’re immune to shame in these games. I can’t remember the last time they combined their superior talent with an acceptable amount of game-long intensity to beat the crap out of a team. That should happen pretty regularly.

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