I was really worried about this game. The Cavs have had some ugly losses against the Pistons over the years and, after the past two games, I wasn’t exactly full of confidence heading into Wednesday night. However, the Cavs stepped up their defense (and survived their offense) to put the Pistons away.
LeBron James, M.V.P. During the ESPN telecast (btw, how bad is it that I glady choose ESPN over Fox Sports Ohio) Jon Barry remarked that he thought LeBron was having good game; not a bad game, but not a great game either. I’d have to agree. But here’s LeBron’s final line: 30 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, a steal and a block (with zero turnovers). It’s amazing how efficient James is; his 30 points came on just 19 shots (of which he made 11). I’m not sure what else I can say about the guy except for the fact that he makes games like this look average (which makes sense, as he averages 30-8-8).
Zydrunas played extremely well. The extra days off did him some good, as he went for 20 points and 8 boards. Z’s confidence looked sky high; he’s no longer intimidated by the Piston’s defense, he battled Rasheed all game and he did not hesitate to shoot when he had a good look (which was nice to see). Ilgauskas made the Pistons pay every time he was left open and he made shots from all over the floor (I really liked when he flashed to the middle for a quick 6-8 foot shot). The Cavs went to him on the block on a regular basis and he was involved for the entire game (there weren’t any long stretches of time where he didn’t get a touch).
The defense: great. A game after scoring 136 points against Denver, the Cavs held the Pistons to just 73 points. Detroit shot just 40% (well, 39.7%) from the field and 29% from the 3pt line. I was kind of surprised to see that the Pistons only shot 7 free throws, but they seemed to live and die by the jumper (once ‘Sheed stopped going inside).
The offense: ugly, but not completely awful. Sometimes, the Cavs offense looks like a real NBA offense; guys are running around with a purpose, they know where they’re supposed to be and the ball moves from side to side. Are they the Suns? No, but things are working. Then you get possessions where nobody moves. You get possessions where players are slow to begin a play… and the bench was slow to call said play. The Cavs had way too many possessions where someone would hold onto the ball too long and then be forced to take a terrible shot with the clock winding down (this happened to West, Szczerbiak, Devin Brown, James and Varejao). Like Barry kept repeating, the Cavs were wasting possessions. The only reason why I’ll say it wasn’t completely terrible is the fact that they only had 7 turnovers. So sure, they had a few ‘Devin Brown fade-away’ type possessions, but at least they held onto the basketball.
The non-Z bigs also played pretty well. Both Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao got under the skin of Rasheed Wallace and kept him out of his comfort zone (or pushed him towards the 3pt line). Ben Wallace looked about very active on the defensive end; he was altering shots, he was playing physical and contributing in other areas of the stat sheet (8 boards, 2 points and 4 assists). Varejao looked better than he’s been (but not quite pre-injury) on his way for a 6 and 6 evening. Also, Joe Smith only got 6 minutes of PT. Not sure how that happens, but I really hope it doesn’t happen again (and I really, really, really hope that it was nothing to do with the two knee braces he was sporting throughout the tgame.
Delonte West needs to learn how to finish. I like a lot of what West brings to the team; his jumper isn’t great, but it gets the job done and he plays hard on defense (he’s a good on ball defender and he even blocks some shots). West can also get to the rim on a pretty regular basis… but he can’t finish once he gets there. Part of me thinks that these close, in traffic, shots will eventually start to fall (like Wally) but another part of me wonders if this is why the Cavaliers are his third team. He’s heady, he’s scrappy and he takes the ball strong to the rim (so I like what he brings) but he has to learn how to finish in traffic. West finished just 3-13 from the field, but (and I dunno if this helps or hurts him) at least 4 of the misses were blown layups that should’ve been down.
The same goes for Pavlovic. Sasha missed another couple of close shots but for the most part played well. He’s still attacking the rim, but he’s in much better control (and he even passed out of some drives after he drew the defense). Sasha finished with 9 points and 4 boards in 27 minutes (with Szczerbiak and Brown combining for 29) but he did only shoot 3-11.
Szczerbiak came back with a strong game. It’s been no secret that Wally has struggled since the trade (he’s only shooting in the mid-30s since the deal) and he came out very aggressive against Detroit. Wally finished with 10 points on 4-7 shooting and he wasn’t completely exploited on the defensive end. There were a few possessions where I thought that he held the ball too long or that he was a little too selfish, but for the most part I thought he played well. Szczerbiak was also very active without the ball, grabbing 4 boards (2 offensive) in just 15 minutes of court time.
These next games are crucial. The Cavs face their potential first round matchup, Toronto, in Cleveland this Friday before traveling to Milwaukee to face future-Cavalier Michael Redd on Saturday night. However, after those two relatively easy games, they face New Orleans and then Detroit again (in Motown). It’d be nice to face Chris Paul while riding a 3 game win streak… no?