The brooms are out in Cleveland. The Cavaliers rode out the tightest game of this series against the Pistons, holding on for a 100-98 victory in Detroit and giving them a long layover before their second-round matchup begins.
Parts of Game 4 deviated from the previous trends in the series, but it wasn’t enough in the end. Stan Van Gundy, who coached a fantastic series from the start, tried a few new wrinkles to interrupt what had been a solid comfort level from Cleveland – and it almost paid off. The Pistons altered a few things with their pick-and-roll attack, particularly down the stretch, and generated a number of great looks from beyond the arc. Whether it was legs, the enormity of the moment or simple variance, the Pistons couldn’t get a few of the big ones to fall in the high-leverage minutes late in the game. Detroit shot just 2-9 from three-point range in the pivotal fourth quarter, including a sequence where they missed a minimum of four fantastic looks in just two possessions while J.R. Smith hit a ludicrous fall-away on the other end as the shot clock wore down. It’s a make or miss league, as they say.
Van Gundy also smartly adjusted his bench units, which had been getting destroyed to start the second and fourth quarters by Cavs lineups featuring LeBron James flanked by shooters. Van Gundy stuck with Andre Drummond to start the fourth Sunday night, eschewing both Aron Baynes and Steve Blake and tightening his rotation. The move had a bit of success at the time, but may have slightly worn down guys like Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
Moving forward, it looks as though the Cavs are in a solid spot. They’ll get a ton of time off before the second-round with the Boston-Atlanta series now certain to go to at least six games, and while rust could be a concern for some teams in this situation, a James-captained outfit with all of last year’s experience under their belts shouldn’t suffer and should benefit from time to recharge. They may only be small concerns in the long run, but minimizing the length of these early rounds could be big for Cleveland down the road, particularly in the Finals where they should face a behemoth who’ll take every ounce to topple.
From an on-court standpoint, a few interesting notes will carry over to the second-round. Timofey Mozgov became an afterthought by the end of the Pistons series, recording DNP-Coach’s Decision lines in each of the final two games after logging just nine minutes in Game 2. Mozgov was a vital piece of Cleveland’s run last year, especially their strong performance early against Golden State in the Finals, but it appears he’s on the outside looking in now. He’s too slow to contain powerful pick-and-roll attacks, and Channing Frye has proven a more valuable offensive piece almost immediately. Particularly if the Cavs continue to give Kevin Love-at-center lineups a solid look (they should, as these are some of their most lethal), it wouldn’t be shocking to see very little of Mozgov the remainder of the postseason.
Kyrie Irving was fantastic in the second half of Game 4 in Detroit, and getting him in a rhythm could be another big factor for Cleveland. Again, every little bit counts – a fully-firing trio of James, Love and Irving lessens the burden on each as they march toward the Finals, and could be what gets them over the top if everything breaks right.
Whether Cleveland’s red hot shooting can continue after the layoff will be a point of interest. The Cavs shot a blistering 41.3 percent on a huge number of attempts from beyond the arc against Detroit. And while this was no great shock given the quality of looks they were generating, such an approach can at times yield higher variance – particularly against a better defense, which the Cavs are sure to face next round (both Boston and Atlanta boasted elite units all season). Only a big collapse shooting-wise would doom them in the second-round if they continue to do everything else as crisply as we saw for most of the opening series, but it’s worth monitoring nonetheless as the playoffs continue. It’s onward and upward for Cleveland, and we’ll see if they can roll again in the next round.
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