Big three lead the way to 3-0: Cavs-Pistons, Behind the Box Score

Kyrie Irving Cavs-Pistons
Allen Einstein/NBAE/GettyImages

Cleveland Cavaliers 101
Detroit Pistons 91
Box Score
Cavs lead series, 3-0

The Cavs are one game away from a first-round sweep, but let’s be clear: the Detroit Pistons have played some good basketball. Each of the first three games was competitive, and it’s not like the Cavs have been playing poorly. Detroit has generally played hard, been physical, defended well, and made their shots.

The only thing standing in the way of their winning a game is that the pesky fact that the Cavs are a better team composed of better players. The playoffs are the province of stars, and sometimes stars make plays that others simply can’t. There was ample evidence of that in the Cavs’ 101-91 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills Friday night, and no play showed it more than Kyrie Irving’s dagger three from the corner in the final minute.

The Cavs led 95-90 and were inbounding under their own basket with 45.1 seconds left in the game and 0.7 left on the shot clock. Irving ran off a LeBron James screen and darted to the right corner. Matthew Dellavedova fired a chest pass along the baseline. Kyrie caught the ball as he set his feet. He rose and fired a three, his momentum carrying him toward the boundary.

A swish through the net and a hush through the crowd. 98-90 with 43 seconds left. Ballgame.

Again the Pistons battled, and again they hung with the Cavs into the second half. But again the Cavs’ talent was the difference, particularly that of the LeBron James/Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving troika

Again the Pistons battled, and again they hung with the Cavs into the second half. But again the Cavs’ talent was the difference, particularly that of the LeBron James/Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving troika. Again Kyrie Irving scored 20-plus points and made at least half of his threes. Again LeBron was LeBron — even though he didn’t shoot well Friday. Again Kevin Love had a double-double.

LeBron, Love, and Kyrie are each averaging better than 20 points a game in these young playoffs. Love’s 16-point Game 2 stands as the only non-20-pointer of their nine combined playoff games. They’re playing like the stars that they are.

And again the Cavs’ role players stepped up as necessary. After being held in check during the series’ first two games — two points and seven rebounds total — Tristan Thompson landed some punches in his heavyweight matchup with Andre Drummond, getting his mitts on a whopping eight offensive rebounds. Matthew Dellavedova continued to offer a steady hand off the bench, finishing with 12 points and 5 assists in 16 minutes. J.R. Smith’s jumper betrayed him for much of the game, but he still connected thrice from deep. Iman Shumpert, rightly considered the Cavs’ least threatening offensive player, knocked down a couple threes.

It’s an interesting series, in part because the Pistons are unlike any team the Cavs will see for the rest of the playoffs. No other team has a beast quite like Andre Drummond in the middle. No other team has a less threatening cast of shooters (with the possible exception of Miami). No other team has as underwhelming a bench. No other team has a backup point guard quite as vanilla, in play and skin tone, as Steve Blake. The rest of the playoffs, at risk of counting chickens, are likely to be very different.

But again, the Pistons have played a proud brand of basketball. They’re forcing the Cavs to play hard for 48 minutes. In the process, the Cavs are getting some of the best, most cohesive all-around play from the big three that we’ve seen up to this point. That’s something to get excited about.

Onward to the numbers…

70.6 — LeBron, Love, and Kyrie are together averaging 70.6 points through the series’ first three games. They combined for 66 Friday night, with Kyrie netting 26 and LeBron and Love putting in 20 apiece.

LeBron had a rough shooting night, going 8-for-24 and missing five of his six three-point tries. He didn’t attack the rim quite as relentlessly as in Game 2; perhaps he just wanted to take the jumper for a spin. He impacted the game in other ways, as he is wont to do, finishing with 13 rebounds and 7 assists. He also had one very rude block, swatting a meaningless Reggie Jackson layup off the glass with 15 seconds remaining.

Kyrie played one of his finer games of the season, totaling 26 points and 4 assists on 11-of-20 shooting. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope defended him well, but Kyrie came out on top more times than not. He knocked down half of his six threes and has now shot 52 percent from deep (16-of-31) in his last four games. He looks more at peace with his dribble and his finishing compared to when he first came back from injury. When he’s hitting from the outside, there ain’t many offensive players better.

As for Love, he had a really nice, understated game. He went 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from the stripe en route to 20 points and 12 rebounds. He only had two assists, but he made an impact with his passing, especially in the early going. The Pistons chose to double team him every time he got the ball in the post, and he was happy to wait it out and find the open man. Like Kyrie, his three-point shot is showing signs of life: he’s hit 44 percent (10-of-23) over his last four games.

10 to 7 — After being outrebounded by Andre Drummond 18-7 in the first two games, Tristan Thompson played his best game of the playoffs thus far, grabbing 10 boards (8 offensive) to Drummond’s 7 (3 offensive). Drummond is a tough matchup for Tristan, as TT is giving up about 2 inches and 30 pounds. Drummond is a huge, super athletic dude. I suppose I don’t have much of a point here other than Tristan played hard and played well. It’s what he does.

46-32 — On that same note, the Cavs outrebounded Detroit, 46-32, after the Pistons bested them on the boards in Game 2 by a 57-48 margin.

0 — Timofey Mozgov — poor, sweet, lovable-but-recently-hapless Timo — got a DNP in Game 3. Given his struggles for much of the season, it’s tough to argue with that decision. He’s still a very large man, but it’s looked like he’s had a basketball version of the yips. His questionable hands have been especially so. Injuries have limited his ability to leap, whether to contest shots or finish inside. He just ain’t had it, and Friday his backup center minutes went to some combination of Love, Thompson, and Channing Frye.

14 — Stanley Johnson played 14 minutes, his fewest of the series. Heh.