CLEVELAND – On a night the Cleveland Cavaliers should have been ecstatic, they were down in the dumps.
After playing arguably their most complete game of the season, the Cavaliers were eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Cavs dished out a season-high 41 assists in their 122-100 dismantling of the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday before 15,979 at Quicken Loans Arena.
However, Atlanta’s 105-97 win over the Boston Celtics ended the Cavs’ faint playoff hopes.
“It’s an empty feeling,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could have done or should have done. Our chances were snatched away tonight (by the Hawks).”
Cavs guard Dion Waiters paved the way with 22 points and eight assists.
It is the fourth consecutive year that the Cavs (32-47) were denied a playoff berth. This one, though, started with such high expectations.
Guard Brandon Jennings and forward Jonas Jerebko each had 17 points for the Pistons (29-50). Guard Rodney Stuckey and forward Greg Monroe added 15 points apiece. Center Andre Drummond had 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
The way the Cavs shared the basketball was mind-blowing.
“The 41 assists were obviously spectacular,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “That’s really good. That’s the way we want to play. Our guys have gotten better in that area.”
It was also a vindication for Brown, who has faced media scrutiny for his offensive principles.
The Cavs amassed a season-high 53 field goals on 93 attempts. They shot 57 percent from the field, including 64 percent in the first half when they extended their lead to 69-37.
“We were embarrassed in the first half,” Pistons interim coach John Loyer said. “This is an unforgiving league. The better team won tonight. They outworked us.”
The Cavs had a franchise-record 26 assists in the first half.
Their 41 assists were one off the NBA season high set by Charlotte on Feb. 11.
“We started out with a different focus level,” Irving said. “We got each other involved.”
Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova had his third double-double of the season with 14 points and a career-high 12 assists. He was also 4 of 6 from behind the arc.
Apparently, the Cavs are finally hitting their stride. Unfortunately for them, it’s too late. Another trip to the May 20 draft lottery is up next.
Cavs center Tyler Zeller added 18 points. Spencer Hawes had 15 points — 13 in the first quarter — and eight rebounds.
The Cavs jumped out to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter and never looked back. Their lead swelled to 34 points early in the second half.
Irving, who had just eight points, said he has seen a marked improvement in the Cavs.
“Our attention to detail has been a lot better,” he said. “We don’t have as many lulls where coach has to call timeouts. We trust each other.”
The Cavs have no one but themselves to blame for failing to make the postseason.
“We put ourselves in this hole,” Brown said. “I wish we could have a couple of those games back from early on. I think our ceiling is pretty high. I feel good about the direction we’re going.”
The Pistons shot just 35.4 percent from the field.
“I think at one point we missed 11 straight shots in the first half,” Jennings said. “We definitely can’t win like that.”
NOTES: Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving is going to have an extremely busy and eventful summer. The Cavaliers are expected to offer Irving a five-year, $80 million maximum extension on July 1. If he wants to get that done before his USA Basketball obligations, he will have to get moving. Training camp starts July 28 in Las Vegas. It might wrap up in the gold-medal game of the World Cup in Madrid, Spain, on Sept. 14. … Derrick Gordon, a University of Massachusetts guard, became the first openly gay male basketball player in Division I. He was one of Irving’s high school teammates. … Pistons F Josh Smith missed his second consecutive game with left patellar tendinitis. “I don’t think it’s been nagging him very long,” Detroit interim coach John Loyer said. … Loyer allowed Connecticut alumni F Charlie Villanueva and C Andre Drummond to attend the NCAA championship game Monday. The Huskies defeated Kentucky for the title. “Sometime, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Loyer said.
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