The Cleveland Cavaliers may boast three offensive superstars in Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, but they were forced to win ugly, with defense, in Detroit tonight.
The Cavs improved to 36-22 with a 102-93 victory over the Pistons. With the Washington Wizards losing to the Warriors, the Cavs are now 2 1/2 games up on D.C.'s basketball team for the fourth seed, and still 1/2 game back of the Bulls for the third seed.
For three quarters Love, LeBron, and when he could stay on the court and out of foul trouble, Timofey Mozgov, kept the Cavs alive. The Pistons scored 62 points in the first half. There was disappointing defense, there were perplexing foul calls, and the Pistons were taking advantage of the size Andre Drummond has on Tristan Thompson. The Pistons were also just hitting some contested shots.
It looked like that might continue early in the third, and the Pistons built a 14 point lead early on in the second half. And then Kevin Love happened. He finished with 24 points, all of which came from three point range, and shot the Cavs back into it. He facilitated from the high post, finishing with three assists to no turnovers, and pulled down nine rebounds for good measure.
In the meantime, the Cavs were playing great defense. After holding the Pistons to just 12 points in the third quarter, the Cavs followed it up by keeping the Pistons at 19 in the fourth. I thought after foul trouble hurt Mozgov early, and Thompson struggled early, that both stepped up in the second half. Tristan put hard fouls on Drummond when he got beat, and capably held Monroe in the post. He stayed with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Jackson drives. Meanwhile, Mozgov blocked four shots and scored 14 points on just six shots. When on the floor, he was a difference-maker.
Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined fits of brilliance with some struggles, though James was still incredibly effective. 19 points on 14 shots for James, 11 assists, seven rebounds, nine turnovers. He became the all-time leader in the NBA in assists from a forward. In terms of assists from players of his height, perhaps only Magic Johnson has him beat. Impressive.
Iman Shumpert was active and energetic, but struggled to buy a basket. He's shot, perhaps, a little above his head early on with the Cavs, so we will see if that's a trend that continues. He missed quite a few open threes. Could be one night, could be some regression, could be all of the above.
Check in tomorrow for bits from Joe Harris and Brendan Haywood. Thursday we will get you ready for the Golden State Warriors.