Everything went Cleveland’s way on March 14, as the Cavaliers dominated the Detroit Pistons, 128-96, jumping out to a ridiculously hot start.
Cleveland shot 17-of-20 (85 percent) from the field in the first quarter, scoring 44 points.
It was the second-best field goal percentage for a quarter this season by any team in the league. Not surprisingly, the Cavs also own the highest mark of the season, which took place during a November 1 win over the Houston Rockets, when they shot 86.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs stayed hot to start the second, and built the lead up to 27, converting 23 of their first 26 field goal attempts of the night, draining all ten 3-pointers to start the game.
That insane field goal percentage (88 percent) was bound to fall off eventually, but unlike some of Cleveland’s recent games, its large lead never dwindled down to bring the game within reach.
Tyronn Lue noted after the game that it was nice to allow the starters to get a fourth quarter off for a change.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to put teams away in the third quarter and get guys some rest in the fourth quarter,” he said.
As great as the offense was, Lue was particularly pleased with his team’s defensive effort, which had been called into question over the last week or so, when the Cavs dropped four of five games.
“Defensively, we were contesting shots, running guys off the three-point line and did a better job of boxing out … we just have to continue to keep building on this,” Lue said.
One of the unexpected opportunities of the blowout victory allowed Lue to insert newly added big man Larry Sanders into the game with less than two minutes to play.
Sanders had not played in an NBA game in more than two years and was unlikely to play heading into the night.
Lue actually had to get permission from Cavs general manager David Griffin during the game to see if he was allowed to put Sanders on the court.
Lue told reporters he sent a ball boy up to ask Griffin and the GM responded that Sanders could play no more than two minutes.
Tyronn Lue had to get David Griffin's permission to let Larry Sanders play late in the game.
Said they sent a ball boy to ask Griff pic.twitter.com/nFzjHCJXHj
— Matt Medley (@MedleyHoops) March 15, 2017
When asked what was going through his mind after such a dramatic road back to the league, through years of injuries and off the court issues, Sanders kept it simple.
“I just wanted a block,” he said. “I just really wanted to block a shot.”
He’ll likely have plenty more opportunities to block shots moving forward, but the Cavs are expected to give Sanders more playing time in the NBA Developmental League to work his way back into rhythm after such a long layoff from basketball.
Lue revealed the plan to start Sanders in the D-League was actually something the backup center suggested, which left a favorable impression on his new head coach.
Due to the circumstances of the blowout win, Lue felt it was a good opportunity to give Sanders a “Welcome to Cleveland moment” and the fans embraced him when he stepped on the court.
LeBron James also gave a post-game speech welcoming Sanders to the team and told reporters afterwards it was a message that he and his teammates are there to help Sanders succeed.
All things considered, the night couldn’t have gone much better for Cleveland. J.R. Smith even made his return to action at Quicken Loans Arena, playing his first game in front of his home fans since December.
For a team that needed to bounce back from a disappointing week of road losses, the Cavs seemed to come in with focus and motivation from the start.
Kyrie Irving credited that hot start after the win, but didn’t feel that the week leading up it was an entirely negative experience.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it rough,” Irving said. “I’d just call it a learning experience, you know just getting to know new guys… just systematic stuff, execution stuff, but when we get out to a pace like that, it’s good. We were making stops and making them play our game.”
Getting to know new guys has been a theme for the Cavs practically all year. The team has had to make one adjustment after another with injuries to key players, especially Smith, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and even the drastic season-ending injury to Andrew Bogut.
The addition of Deron Williams has started to pay dividends and LeBron indicated it might have something to do with his recent surge in rebounding, as the four-time MVP posted his third triple-double in the last four games during the win over the Pistons.
After an underwhelming three games last week, Smith started hitting some shots in his return to Cleveland, knocking down 4-of-5 shots, three of which came from long-range.
As the Cavs begin to fit the pieces together with Smith back on the floor, Williams, Derrick Williams, and now, Sanders, their depth is arguably at an all-time high of any of Cleveland’s teams featuring LeBron.
It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the team adjusts to Korver’s return (less than one week away) and then the return of Love, which is expected to occur towards the end of the month.
It’s only one game, but this blowout over the Pistons showed some encouraging signs for the Cavs that a lack of chemistry may not be a big concern moving closer to the playoffs.
Cleveland will look to keep this momentum going with an intriguing matchup against the Utah Jazz on March 16 at home.