The Cavaliers were on the road, playing the second night of a back-to-back. For the first three quarters the team more or less played like it. The Cavaliers fell down by 16 points and it looked like that would pretty much be it.
But the Cavaliers got a surprise offensive explosion from Matthew Dellavedova, Anderson Varejao was his old rebounding-machine self, and Jarrett Jack had an enormous fourth quarter to lead the Cavaliers back to within striking distance.
The Cavs got a couple huge stops in the final minutes setting up the finale. With the Cavs down four, Jack converted an and-one to bring the Cavs within one with 53 seconds left. After tough defense forced a bad Josh Smith shot, the ball went out of bounds off Delly’s hands, giving the Pistons the ball with 28.5 seconds left. Rather than fouling, Mike Brown chose to trust his defense and Brandon Jennings missed an off balance jumper. Luol Deng grabbed the rebound and the Cavs called a timeout with 3.2 seconds remaining. That set up the real fun stuff.
Once again the Cavaliers found themselves in a critical inbound situation. After the initial Cavs timeout, the Pistons used two consecutive timeouts in a bit of gamesmanship. Then Luol Deng once again couldn’t find anyone open and had to use a timeout of his own to avoid the 5-second call. On their second try, Deng found Dion Waiters cutting to the corner. Dion took a quick dribble, stepped to his left and pulled up for a 19-foot jumper. And he drilled it. The Cavaliers erupted in joy and this team pulled off one of the more improbable victories of the season.
Now lets look at some numbers:
21 – Matthew Dellavedova poured in an impressive 21 points to lead the Cavaliers. It was a career high for the undrafted rookie and he did it on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-7 from three point range. Delly was huge for the Cavs on both ends of the court. Anderson Varejao was +25 and Delly was +24. The only other Cavs on the positive side of the +/- stat were Alonzo Gee (+4) and Waiters (+3). Delly also had six assists and three rebounds in what was easily his best game as an NBA player.
31 to 14 – Through three quarters the Cavs were trailing the Pistons 82-66. This game looked about as over as it could be. The Cavs were shooting 38.5% from the floor and were being outrebounded by a 38-33 margin. But Mike Brown’s small lineup with Andy at the 5, Deng at the 4, and the three guards around the perimeter started an unlikely comeback. The Cavs outscored the Pistons 31 to 14 in the fourth quarter. The Cavs shot 60% in the 4th, including 5-of-10 from three point range. Jarrett Jack had 11 points while Delly and Dion had six each. Andy had 4 rebounds in the quarter as the Cavs outrebounded the Pistons 12-10.
36 – The Pistons are the best team in the NBA at scoring in the point, averaging about 54 points in the paint pet game. Their frontcourt trio of Smith, Monroe, and Drummond are about as formidable as it gets. But the Cavaliers held the Pistons to just 36 points in the paint and were only outscored 36-34 in that category. To have any chance at winning the Cavaliers were going to have to limit the Pistons in the paint and they did just that. What’s even more remarkable is that the Cavaliers did most of their damage in the fourth quarter with the small lineup with Spencer Hawes and Tristan Thompson on the bench. Josh Smith did have 24 points, but he was taking plenty of outside shots and Monroe and Drummond were limited to a combined 20 points.
0-3 – Speaking of Tristan, after having what looked like a bounce back game the previous night, this was another disappointing setback night. Tristan was 0-3 from the field and had just six rebounds. His -16 was second worst on the team, ahead of only Spencer Hawes. Some have suggested that Tristan, who had a busy summer and has played in every single game this season, might be wearing down a bit. There’s probably some truth to that. But it also feels like Tristan has hit a bit of a development wall as well.
18 – One of the problems for the Cavaliers in this game was their stagnant offense. One night after displaying great team basketball, this game featured a lot more isolation basketball. The Cavaliers assisted on just 18 of their 37 FGs. Brandon Jennings alone had 13 assists and Josh Smith’s six assists equaled the most assists of any Cavalier (Dellavedova). Seven of the Cavs’ 18 assists came in the fourth quarter alone, further demonstrating how different this team plays when they move the ball vs trying to play isolation and taking long jumpers.
There was a lot not to like about this game, but none of that is as important as the final outcome. After so many games early in the season where the Cavs either gave up huge leads or simply seemed to give up after falling behind, the Cavaliers have shown a knack for mounting tough comebacks lately. Again, it’s a testament to these players for not giving up and continuing to keep fighting and keep coming back.
And what can we say about Dion Waiters? It’s been a trying season for Dion, but ever since the Chris Grant firing, Dion has owned up to his own shortcomings and has stepped up his game. He deserves to have a moment like tonight, where he hit his first career game winner. With the playoffs all but out of the picture, the Cavaliers continue to show signs of development and that starts with Dion.