Pistons Offer No Resistance As Cavaliers Advance

LeBron JamesThe good news for the Cleveland Cavaliers is that they now have nothing but time on their hands as they sit back, relax, and wait to see whether Miami or Atlanta is coming to town next. The reason for this is that with their 99-78 dismantling of the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, the Cavaliers have completed their first round sweep of their division rivals.

It would be easy to sit here wax poetic about how great the Cavaliers are and how important it was for them to sweep their first round opponents. We could talk about how the Cavaliers are the first team in the NBA to advance to the 2nd round. While all those things are probably true, the bigger story in this series as far as I’m concerned was the ineptitude of the Detroit Pistons.

A once proud team full of champions with hearts of lions suddenly looked pedestrian and wholly disinterested in playing the game of basketball. And that’s the bad news for the Cavaliers. While everyone else is playing games filled with playoff intensity and thus kicking their game into the next gear, the Cavaliers merely had to go through the motions to send the Pistons home, which is evidently right where they wanted to be.   

It would be a mistake to discount how well the Cavaliers did play in this series, but there’s no question that the Cavaliers faced the least resistance from any team in the playoffs by about 5 miles. It’s not hard to remember a time not that long ago when the Pistons played the Cavaliers tougher than just about anyone else in the NBA. Tayshaun Prince was a guy who would routinely find ways to get to the line, Rip Hamilton was always knocking down shot after shot, and Rasheed Wallace was instigating in any way possible to keep the Cavaliers off balance. LeBron James used to struggle to drive against the Pistons, as they were able to keep him off the FT line and forced him to shot a lot of outside jumpers.

Not this year. In the 2006 playoffs the Pistons held LeBron to a mere 7.86 FT/game. In the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals he got to the line just 9.66 times per game against the Pistons. Last season they held him 7.33 FT/game in the regular season. This season, that number jumped to 9.75, but it was still under 10 per game. In this playoff series, though, LeBron was able to get into the lane at will against the Pistons, and as a result he averaged an astounding 14.75 FT/game. Rasheed Wallace was a ghost on defense and he was even more transparent than that on offense, as Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace managed to turn Rasheed into a complete non factor.

The only players who seemed to care for the Pistons were Antonio McDyess, who was probably trying to make his decision to go back to the Pistons look like the right one, Will Bynum, and Rodney Stuckey. Pistons coach Michael Curry seemed to offer no real strategy for defending the Cavaliers either. In Game 1 he decided to just defend LeBron with one man, and LeBron responded with 38 points. In Game 2 he decided to have the Pistons double LeBron as soon as he touched it. LeBron responded by setting up Mo Williams, who answered with 21 points. After that, the Pistons seemed to just try anything, double teaming, playing zone, going big, going small, and standing there doing nothing but watch.

None of it seemed to matter, as the Cavaliers were able to show that this team is no longer just about LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Some had wondered with his limited playoff experience what kind of impact Mo Williams would have in the spotlight of the playoffs. Despite a couple off games, Mo showed that his confidence wouldn’t waver in the postseason and he went for 14.8 points and 5.5 assists in the series. Delonte West was an unsung hero in this series. His 11.5 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists are solid numbers, but it was his defense that made the difference in this series. He chased Rip Hamilton around all series long, and held him to just 13.3 points per game, well below his season average of 18.3 points. When Stuckey or Bynum seemed to get hot and start to hurt the Cavaliers, Mike Brown simply put Delonte on them and their production instantly slowed.

Beyond the backcourt, the Cavaliers frontcourt was even better. Ilgauskas was streaky at times, but still managed to put up 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Anderson Varejao held Rasheed Wallace to just 6.5 points per game. And then there was Joe Beast. Beast was the MVP in Game 3 and was just huge for the Cavaliers all series long, finishing with 10.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a 26.8 PER for the round.

I don’t want to belittle how well the Cavaliers played, but there’s certainly room for some improvement, and the Cavaliers will still have to take their game up to the next level if they want to keep advancing. They can’t have quarters like the 3rd quarter in Game 3 or the 4th quarter in Game 2. Wally Szczerbiak or Daniel Gibson are going to have to step up and start finding ways to contribute at some point. Ilgauskas and Mo need to play more consistent. I wrote earlier in the series that I wanted the Cavaliers to take care of business and to finish off the Pistons as soon as possible, and I am very happy that they did so. What I’m not happy about, though, is that they didn’t really have a chance to get into playoff mode yet.

So now the Cavaliers will rest, and wait. Whoever wins the Miami-Atlanta series will come into the Q next round as the more battle tested team. Only time will tell whether the lack of resistance the Cavaliers faced in this round from the Pistons will hurt them at all. The one thing we know, however, is that the Cavaliers showed us all season long how resilient they are at bouncing back from any setbacks. So for now it’s not a point of concern, but more of something for us to keep an eye on as the Cavaliers move on. For now, we can join the Cavaliers in sitting back and enjoying the rest of the first round action as we wait for the next opponent.

  • adam

    im not buying the argument that an untested cavs team in the first round is a bad thing. this is a team that has great chemistry and is unstoppable at home. so a week off will help them prepare for either atl/mia and the first two games at home will get them back on track.

    would we rather have played the bulls and had two overtime games and a 6-7 game series? i dont think so cavs fans! mike brown knows how to keep this team fresh and he wont allow for a let down

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    There’s no correlation between time off and being battle tested. The Cavs could have played a Bucks team that would have challenged them a lot more, and still swept them. If you read the whole article, I clearly said I was happy for the extra time off. I’m just not happy that they had to play a team who didn’t push them at all.

  • phil

    Nice point about Delonte West. It’s easy (at least for me, it is) to overlook his defense.

  • Omega King

    I think the edge for the Cavs is that they open up a series at home. If you can blow the doors off of your opponents in the first two games, it sets the tone for the series.

  • B-bo

    The thing that still stands out to me from this series was Mo Williams getting absolutely abused by Rodney Stuckey on a regular basis. Thankfully, most of the Pistons’ roster was mentally checked out, or this might have been a much tougher series–any opponent with a pulse would have buried the Cavs in that Game 3. Hopefully Mo steps up the D going forward, because Delonte can’t guard everyone.

    Personally, I’ll be rooting for the Hawks to get past the Heat. I want no part of the D-Wade/NBA refs combination that handed Miami the title back in ’06.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    I think I’m with you on that last point, B-bo. The NBA fan in me really wants to see the LeBron-Wade match up, but the Cavaliers fan in me would rather try my luck with Atlanta who, IMO, played the Cavaliers much tougher this season than the Heat did. Either way, the Cavaliers are going to face MUCH tougher opposition in the next round. That goes without saying, I suppose.

  • Boomhauer

    Anyone else still mad that ABC/ESPN chose not to start showing the Cavs game on ESPN2 until about 8 minutes into the game? WTF!!! I guess the 2008 World Series of Poker was more important.

  • adam

    still, correlation or not, the fact that we walked all over the pistons is not a bad thing! cmon man! lebron was sweating, workin hard, gettin in his rhythm puttin up huge numbers. the team looked good and it was a nice warm up for round two.

    as for who i want the cavs to face, id say prolly the hawks (echoing others) becuase they dont have wade. their team may be better but id rather not deal with a superstar until we face kobe in the finals.

  • Swig

    Through the first 7 quarters the Pistons had the intensity of a pre-season game. For most of the last 9 it was like 2nd game of a back-to-back.

    There was no dealing with the other team adjusting. No sense in any game that Detroit actually had a chance.

    I’m excited for the 2nd round now. I feel part of the reason this series was such a walk is because we are so good. Hopefully we see more of this in the 2nd round.

  • http://farmersonly.com Jordan

    #8: You saw LeBron sweating? I have HD and detected a mostly dry-at-all-times LeBron. That’s the scary part; he was dropping 34-11-7 without even working hard. The next round will be tougher, but once LeBron gets into ‘eff you, it’s the playoffs’ mode, it’s all over.

  • http://www.nologoneeded.com Don_NoLogoNeeded.com

    Although the time off may last a week, games one and two are at home. With the energy of the crowd behind them and as well as they have played at home all season, I have no problems resting for an entire week.

    I would prefer Atlanta as well. They are a much more fun team to watch and a more athletic match up for the Cavs. It would be a fun 4-1 series.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    I feel I need to reiterate….the rest is not the issue here. The issue here is the level of gameplay. The Cavs did not have to work in that series against Detroit, and in the NBA Playoffs, you have to take your game to the next gear. Every other team who wins their first round matchup in the East will be in Playoff mode. The Cavaliers are still in regular season mode thanks to the Pistons just rolling over and giving up.

  • Chris M

    I agree with your point Rock. My question for you is, do you think that the way other teams are working will hurt them? I would tend to think that the lack of rest from one series to the next may actually work in the Cavs favor, no?

  • adam

    we are in playoff mode! lebron would scoff at that notion rock…

  • Harv 21

    @ #5: Agree with your concerns about Mo defensively, I think that if there is an achilles heel on this team it’s an opposing team’s penetrating point guard. Love Mo, and he is frequently trying his best defensively, but he’s not a strong guy like Delonte or Eric Snow and it’s hard to undo bad habits and change a player’s style in less than one full season. We have to hope his offense will tire the guy guarding him.
    Anyone see the great Bulls-Celtics game yesterday? Despite how weak the Bulls big men look, the Celtics appear very vulnerable. Pierce especially does not look like he has the same fire as last year.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    I was a little disappointed to see the return of the Lebron dribbles at the top of the key for 15 seconds and then tries to shoot over an opponent. He certainly had that ‘let’s finish them off’ mentality, but the best way for the Cavs to do that is to play team offense. I hope this isn’t a sign that when things get close here in the playoffs LeBron is going to insist on the old offensive play.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    @Chris: Again, there’s a difference between rest and caliber of resistance. The other teams’ lack of rest will absolutely hurt them. But they are benefiting from being tested. I just wish the Cavs played a team that actually cared and tried. The Cavs could have still swept them and still had the rest, but at least then they would have been in playoff mode.

    @Rick: That’s precisely my point. The Cavs didn’t really play that hard in Game 4. They were in regular season mode. They did just enough to win, and that’s all.

  • Harv 21

    BTW Rock, I think you have the quintessential Cleveland fan mentality. Last week after 2 wins, you were saying a few of us writing comments were too sanguine in assuming the rest of the Pistons series would be pretty easy. This week you’re worried it wasn’t tough enough. Don’t worry, be happy! Big Ben has more rehab time, and we’ll need him as the games ge tougher. LeBron gets to lick his wounds. Even if we come out flat in our next game, we are much better than either of the possible opponents. This year we are the team that has that hungry look.

  • bridgecrosser

    @ Roclk King
    “Pistons coach Michael Curry seemed to offer no real strategy for defending the Cavaliers either”

    They did a really good job of taking the ball out of LBJ’s hands for the first three quarters of game 2. I think you’ll see LOTS more of this enacted by better teams and defenders as we proceed.

    Bottom line, this series was more about the Cavs being awesome than the Pistons being heinous (for a 39-win team anyway). To see the Pistons quit, is a bit lazy (see Barkley, Charles) and a disservice to the battle-tested Cavs.

  • mmonast

    “The Cavaliers are still in regular season mode thanks to the Pistons just rolling over and giving up.”

    i very much doubt that…lebron and the team knows what time it is

  • dutch

    Look at it like a first round bye that the top seeds in the NFL get. I don’t think the lack of competition in the first round will end up being a negative.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    @Harv: That’s not even remotely close to what I said. I said I wanted this to be a short series and that the Cavs shouldn’t overlook the Pistons. I was wrong about that point, in that the Pistons never showed up to play in the series. I never said I didn’t want the Pistons to challenge the Cavs. That’s just not true.

    As for your points about the rest helping the Cavs, I couldn’t agree more, which is why I have said about 20 times in the article and in the comments that the rest aspect of sweeping is good. That’s not what I’m concerned about. Actually, concern is too strong of a word anyway. You guys are WAY overreacting to what I said. I just wish the Cavaliers were in playoff mode, that’s all. I never once said they were in danger of losing the next round or anything like that. Sheesh, give me a break.

  • B-bo

    Rock, any hesitation about or criticism of the Cavs–valid as it may be–at this point has become risky in these parts. Very few seem willing to consider anything non-complementary, which is unfortunate. There are things to be concerned about, and ignoring them doesn’t change that–keeping a positive mindset (as we have been urged to do) does not require putting on blinders Yes, the end result was a sweep of the series, but there were legitimate lapses in concentration and effort that will cost us against more willing competition at some point.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    Exactly. My confidence in this team hasn’t wavered one bit. But I’m not going to be one of these people to never dare criticize any aspect of this team, especially when warranted. If you want to just read how great the Cavs are and how there’s no issues whatsoever, you can go read any of the 50 other Cleveland sports blogs. We’re not about to start doing that here on this site.

  • Harv 21

    Nah, I’m not uncritical about any of the teams (see #15 above or any of my other comments on any team), and I think you are misunderstanding my point about your comment last week. here’s my point: we are also allowed to enjoy some moments in Cleveland sports, without ambivalence, for a little while. We can do it for the next few days, until a day or two before the next series. Just looking for a little perspective here.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    And you’re evidently not reading what I’m writing. Look at my last sentence: “For now, we can join the Cavaliers in sitting back and enjoying the rest of the first round action as we wait for the next opponent.”

    You’re right in that I don’t understand where you’re coming from, Harv. I never said we shouldn’t enjoy the sweep or that the Cavs are in trouble or anything of the sort. In fact, I wrote quite the opposite. I just pointed out that there are always aspects for a team to improve upon, and the Cavs are no exception. Beyond that, I just wish the Cavs had played a team that would have pushed them a little harder, that’s all.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    Rock’s comments take as long to read as hit damn articles.