A day after the Cavaliers blew a fourth quarter 20 point lead to the Pacers (then 48-29), the Cavs returned home to take on the 26-52 Detroit Pistons. The Cavs had lost five straight games to the Pistons, including all three match-ups this season. Not to spoil the surprise, but they didn’t get the job done on Wednesday either.
Coming out of the first half down 4 points, the Cavaliers closed the gap and took a 1 point lead into the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving, after struggling a bit in the first half, scored 10 points and dished out 3 assists in the period. The teams traded baskets and the lead until Will Bynum hit 3 consecutive shots and put the Pistons up 4 with six minutes to play.
That’s when the Cavaliers employed a new defensive strategy.
Detroit’s rookie center Andre Drummond is having a good first season, but not from the free throw stripe. Entering the game, Drummond was hitting 34% of his free throws. At the six minute mark, Drummond had made 3 of his 5 free throws in the game. With the Pistons already in the bonus, Byron Scott decided to employ the hack-a-Drummond strategy until the two minute mark when an intentional foul would mean free throws plus possession. For most of the next four minutes, the Cavaliers grabbed Drummond as soon as the ball reached half court.
Did the strategy work? Well, in a way yes. Drummond made half of his remaining free throws, hitting 6 out of 12. In that time, the Cavaliers regained the lead. With a 2 point lead at the three minute mark the Cavs played normal defense and watched as Bynum drained a three. This sent the Cavs back to fouling Drummond.
The strategy has been used before this season against the Pistons. It is a legitimate strategy. The sad part is that the Cavaliers would have to employ such a strategy to beat the Pistons.
It also assumes that the Cavaliers would execute a few things correctly. For one thing, the offense would have to score every time down the floor in order to catch up a point each time. It also assumes that the Cavs would get each rebound off a Drummond missed free throw, something the Cavs failed to do once which led to a foul on Tyler Zeller, giving Monroe a crack from the free throw line.
Execution eventually did the Cavaliers in. Down 2 points with 38 seconds left, the Cavaliers had a choice. They could take advantage of the clock and go for a two for one possession, putting a shot up early and guaranteeing at least one more possession. The other option would be to use their full shot clock in order to get the best shot possible and play defense or foul to get the ball back, hopefully tied.
With Irving dribbling slowly at the top of the key as the game clock passed the 24 second mark, it appeared the Cavs were going to employ the second strategy and work the best possible shot. Two seconds later, Kyrie rose up from where he was standing and missed a three point shot.
Kyrie Irving taking a three pointer there shouldn’t really upset anyone, however he very easily could have taken that same shot six to eight seconds earlier and guaranteed time on the clock for the Cavaliers after Detroit’s possession.
To make matters worse, when Drummond got the rebound, the Cavaliers could have immediately fouled him which would have sent him to the line. Drummond, knowing that was likely to happen quickly got a pass off before Tristan Thompson could get to him.
At that point, the Cavaliers should have pulled back and played defense, or fouled the person with the ball. Instead, Thompson wrapped up Andre Drummond. A foul away from the ball gave the Pistons two shots and possession.
The Cavaliers still had a chance to tie, but Detroit would make their free throws down the stretch. Game over. Six game losing streak to the Pistons, who swept the series.
Irving had 27 points, Thompson 19 and Dion Waiters had 11 in limited action in his return. Drummond had a career high 29 points.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)