LeBron James wants to win a title for The Land, and the Detroit Pistons weren't going to stand in his way in the first round.
James and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates finished off the four-game sweep of the Pistons on Sunday with a 100-98 victory at The Palace of Auburn Hills. To Detroit's credit, it was tight throughout, and Reggie Jackson had a chance to win it with a three-point buzzer-beater. However, it fell short, and Cleveland advanced to the second round:
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how it was business as usual for James:
James finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but it was Kyrie Irving who came through with numerous critical shots on his way to a game-high 31 points. One of his shots was a dagger three-pointer in the final minute to put the Cavaliers up four:
The Pistons received 23 points and 13 rebounds from Tobias Harris and 24 points from Marcus Morris in the loss.
Despite the defeat, Detroit came out like a team playing for its postseason life and seized an early 12-3 lead, but Andre Drummond picked up two quick fouls in the initial four minutes of the game. With the fourth-year center sidelined by foul trouble, Jackson had to carry the offensive load for the Pistons with impressive plays like this:
Still, the Cavaliers went on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 17 with Drummond on the bench. Fortunately for the Pistons, Harris finished the first quarter with 10 points and six rebounds and directed Detroit to a 28-25 lead after the initial 12 minutes. Nick Friedell of ESPN.com called it Harris' "best quarter of the series" and pointed out he "looks more comfortable than he's been in a while."
Despite a strong first quarter, the Pistons let James get loose early in the second quarter:
James wasn't the only problem for Detroit. J.R. Smith drilled four of his first five three-point attempts as Cleveland looked to establish momentum before halftime. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today thought Smith was ready to make a run at some history with his hot shooting:
While Smith may have been shooting for history, James actually made some, as the NBA highlighted:
With James leading the way, the Cavaliers took a narrow 53-52 into the halftime locker room. However, Cleveland quickly added to that in the third quarter with an opening 9-2 spurt, which caused Keith Langlois of the Pistons' official website to write, "Story of the series: Pistons sputter on offense after halftime."
Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com noted Irving scored 10 straight points for Cleveland to put the visitors ahead, 67-56. Irving found his shot whether the Detroit defenders challenged him or not, via NBA on TNT:
Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report suggested Irving's hot play was a problem for the rest of the Eastern Conference:
Even with Irving lighting it up on the offensive end, the Pistons battled back to tie the game at 78 in the final seconds of the third quarter. Josh Eberley of Today's Fastbreak said, "Even if this is a sweep, Pistons can take some positives from this as a young team."
Just when it looked like the Pistons had gained some momentum, Irving silenced the crowd from half court at the buzzer to give the Cavaliers an 81-78 advantage heading into the final quarter:
Cleveland parlayed that Irving three-pointer into a 92-86 lead with six minutes remaining in the game. While it appeared as if the Cavaliers were in control, Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports was impressed the Pistons were hanging around against the defending Eastern Conference champions:
Even though Detroit was putting forth an admirable effort, it missed its first six three-pointers in the fourth quarter, per Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press. That opened the door for a backbreaking shot from Smith as the shot clock expired to give the Cavaliers a 95-86 lead.
Devine had some fun with Smith's heave when he said, "[Smith] might have the most clearly defined and perfect role in the NBA. 'Dude, just shoot. No, for real. We want you to. Almost all the time.'"
To the Pistons' credit, they once again battled back and trimmed the deficit to 97-93 with less than two minutes left. That's when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope connected on a three-pointer to cut the lead to 97-96, but Irving once again had the answer. He stepped into his cold-blooded three-pointer with less than 45 seconds remaining and drilled it to put Cleveland back up, 100-96:
Jackson responded with a dunk to make it 100-98, and the Pistons then came through with a defensive stop to give themselves an opportunity to win. Jackson dribbled it up the floor and attempted a game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key, but it fell short.
Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report said it was a "tremendous defensive possession by the Cavs," which couldn't have come at a better time.
Jackson thought he was fouled on the play, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.com. Ben Golliver provided Jackson's post-game comments:
Now the Cavaliers get to enjoy some time off before their second-round series against either the Boston Celtics or the Atlanta Hawks.
The next time the Pistons will step on the floor is the 2016-17 campaign, although they were within striking distance of the Cavaliers in every one of the four games in this series. They will surely look to build on that during the offseason with the hopes of advancing deeper into the Eastern Conference playoffs next year.
As for the Cavaliers, they now get the opportunity for some rest as the remainder of the first round plays itself out. The quick four-game victory in this series gives them more time to recover from any bumps and bruises before the later rounds and possible NBA Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs.
Cleveland will play the winner of the Hawks-Celtics series in the second round. Atlanta and Boston are tied at two games apiece, and it could be a long seven-game battle that will emotionally and physically drain the victor.
That would probably be just fine with the Cavaliers.
Even though they lost in four games, the Pistons were not ashamed with their effort against the Cavaliers after Sunday’s contest.
Drummond said, via NBA TV: “You can't help but hold your head high.”
Jackson looked forward to next season after battling with Cleveland in four close games, via the Pistons: “We competed, we didn't back down ... use this for fuel in offseason workouts and next season.”
As for Cleveland, Irving was reflective on the journey to the postseason after his impressive showing, via the Cavaliers: “I knew during the regular season it would be peaks and valleys, but this postseason is what we've been preparing for.”
James recognized how important Irving was during Sunday’s win, via NBA TV:
James also made sure to point out his team is far from done just because it won one series, via NBA TV:
That is exactly what Cleveland fans want to hear after coming two victories short of lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy last season.