The Cavs took down the Pistons in a much closer than expected Game 1 on Sunday. Detroit provided a much stiffer test than expected early, pushing the Cavs harder than most people thought in the opening game, and missing a great opportunity to use their scalding hot shooting to steal a game and change the series. Here are five things we learned in the process.
1. Kevin Love is a massive problem for Detroit
The Pistons don't have a player capable of guarding Love, which was somewhat expected. Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris are the kind of small fours that he feasts on, and this game was no different. Love consistently got good position and seals on both players throughout the game and was an effective weapon immediately. He became even more deadly when the Cavs moved him to center, a move they said was not effective earlier in the year.
With Love at the five, Andre Drummond was unable to adapt, and eventually kept on the bench the final 2:58 in favor of the slightly more mobile Aron Baynes. Love at center negates Drummond on defense and the glass, keeping him out near the arc instead of patrolling the paint. Drummond's quandary in the matchup was on display for Love's two late threes to put the Cavs ahead for good. On a pick and roll with Kyrie Irving, Drummond stayed with the ball handler as Reggie Jackson came under the screen, and Irving hit Love with a behind the back pass for an open three. The next possession, Love dug out a loose ball and Drummond never left the paint or located him on the reset, leaving Love another wide open look in the corner. On the offensive end, Drummond doesn't have the post game to take advantage of Love's size disadvantage one on one, rendering him a fish out of water in the matchup.
2. Tyronn Lue is good.... and bad
I was very vocal about my distaste for some of Tyronn Lue's coaching decisions yesterday, and I feel that's justified. How he played Timofey Mozgov -- a wonderful human who just hasn't been able to put together positive play this year -- is beyond me. Andre Drummond wasn't even on the floor for that time! His habit of putting Kyrie on the floor with Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, and Mozgov or Tristan Thompson is maddening. People kill Kyrie for shooting so much with that lineup, but the shooting splits for every single one of those players since March are just awful. The Cavs bench's inability to hit a shot or create scoring for others will be a story for another day, but that lineup getting consistent run is probably a problem. I'm still confused about Channing Frye not playing, and when asked, Lue didn't give a very great answer:
I asked Lue the question re: Frye. He said there is role for Frye, but flow of the game kept him out. No on the 2nd https://t.co/NXKgKb3UKO— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) April 18, 2016
That said, if we're going to criticize, we need to give credit where it is due. The Cavs playing Love at center was a huge game changer, and they deserve credit for that. The defensive plan, even though Detroit made shots, was incredibly sound. They started with hard hedging and walling off the paint, daring Detroit shooters who shoot poorly even on open looks to hit shots. When they did, and they moved Love to the five, they went with a more flexible approach to Detroit's deadly Jackson/Drummond pick and roll with a soft trap. Let the ball get into Drummond's hands where it emphasized the weakest parts of his game. The Cavs repeatedly ran offensive sets that exploited Detroit's desire to switch defensively, and Jackson frequently found himself on LeBron James Island.
Coach Lue did a lot of good things in the game, and also some bad. Hopefully Love's success will compel him to give Channing Frye all of Mozgov's minutes, ideally in a run that allows him to smooth out James, Love and Irving's minutes and leave Kyrie alone a little less.
3. Timofey Mozgov just can't be put in the game
Touched on it some already, but it's incredibly how poorly he has played. In just five minutes Mozgov had a plus/minus of -5, and honestly that number seems low. He missed the only shot he took, a covered 17-footer. He got beat down the floor by Aron Baynes and gave up an and-one shoving him. Timo was legitimately very good last year. He was in line to make huge money this offseason. I remember real consternation about Tristan Thompson's contract extension making it harder to pay Mozgov the $94 Million he'd command. It just hasn't happened this year. His knee injury seems to have sapped the plus athleticism he had at the position, making him just another 7'2" guy. His confidence seems shaken. It's sad, and unfair, given how much he would have made as a free agent last season, but it is what it is. Hopefully he bounces back next season here, or wherever he ends up, but he needs to be shelved for the foreseeable future.
4. The Cavs need to get someone other than the 'Big Thee' going
No reason to panic after one game, but we see what it takes to win when nobody else can provide much. J.R. Smith was 2-7 from deep. Matthew Dellavedova was 0-4. But to his credit one big shot was with a toe barely on the line, and he was able to hit a few shots near the basket, an area where he normally struggles. Iman Shumpert continues to struggle to find any kind of offensive rhythm. Richard Jefferson was marginally useful, and he scored five points. The Cavs need to find consistent offense from someone, anyone. This is another reason Channing Frye needs to play.
5. The Pistons aren't going away
Stan Van Gundy is a great coach. He's a master of making you pick your poison. The Cavs will either have to continue to roll the dice with Detroit's poor shooters, or submit and give Drummond better looks near the rim. The math seems to dictate the former, but it's a tough decision regardless. They're a well-coached team of fearless players, and while they may not even win a game, it will be similar to last year's first round where no game is a cakewalk. The Cavs will need to lean on their ability to execute and frustrate Jackson as much as possible. When he starts pressing he will force himself into extended isolations, something the Cavs took advantage of in Game 1, and will need to going forward.