Even on a night were he exited it the game after the third quarter, Kyrie Irving found a way to lead his team to victory. After a slow, forgettable start (and eight turnovers), Irving ramped it up a notch in the third, scoring 12 points in the quarter and helping the Cavaliers claim a lead they would not lose. After his exit, a lineup of backups lead by Sergey Karasev, Anthony Bennett and Jermaine Taylor extended the lead to double digits. The Cavaliers ended up taking home a 96-84 victory on their home court – all without the services of Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, Dion Waiters and Andrew Bynum.
The first quarter was largely positive for the Wine & Gold. Anderson Varejao looked outstanding, scoring six points and bringing down eight rebounds (half of which came on the offensive end) in nine minutes of action against Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond . Top pick Anthony Bennett joined in on the fun, stealing the ball from Peyton Silva and finishing for two on the other end of the floor. He finished with five points in the quarter. Fellow Canadian power forward Tristan Thompson lead the Cavaliers in scoring seven points. Josh Smith lead the Pistons with eight points in the quarter. At the end of one, Cleveland lead Detroit 27-25.
The Cavaliers came out shooting to open the second, as both Earl Clark and Henry Sims shot well from the outside. About midway through the quarter, Pistons guard Will Bynum, a sign that the Cavaliers still have room to grow on the defensive end of the floor. The lineups, weren’t exactly the Cavaliers best. Most of the Cavaliers core players – namely Kyrie Irving and Varejao – sat out until past the halfway mark. That unit, in fact, put up one of the games ugliest moments when Irving botched an alley-oop attempt to Thompson by throwing the ball of the backboard. They later made up for it when Irving was double-teamed and set Thompson for a two-handed slam. But on the next Cavaliers possession, Varejao whipped a gorgeous pass to a cutting Thompson. Karasev, who struggled early, mad the hockey assist to help set up the play. The Pistons took their first lead of the entire quarter when Kyle Singler nailed a three from the corner with 1:21 to play.From there, the Cavaliers got sloppy and let Detroit take control. And while Irving ended the half on three pointer off a set piece, it wasn’t enough. At the end of the half, Detroit lead Cleveland 49-46.
The Cavaliers came out with a different lineup in the third period, as Clark replaced Gee at small forward with the first unit. Karasev, who struggled in the first two quarters, continued to do in the third. His lowlight came with just under six minutes to play. With the shot clock rapidly winding down, the rookie fouled Drummond behind the free throw line, giving him three free shots. Granted, the former Connecticut Husky is historically horrid from the charity stripe (and he missed all three), but it was still a bonehead move by the rookie. The Cavaliers failed to catch up with Detroit for the entire quarter until an Irving three pointer puled them even at 60 points with 5:37 to go. Irving then gave the Cavaliers the lead one possession later, blowing by Siva to draw a foul, hitting the subsequent two free throws. And on the next trip down the floor, Irving whipped out a spin move and finished over Smith for two. After that, he found Clark – playing his best game as a Cavalier – for an east dunk on the fast break. The score prompted a Pistons timeout. The Cavaliers finished the quarter ahead by a score of 70-67. Irving exited the game with 15 points (12 of which came in the third) and six assists in 26 minutes.
In the fourth, the Cavaliers kept up their lead – and even extended it – with most key rotation players done for the evening. Running a lineup of Jermaine Taylor, Matthew Dellavedova, Karasev, Bennett and Henry Sims, the Cavaliers were able to extend the league to 7 with 5:26 to go with Taylor leading the charge. Karasev also came up big, hitting a three pointer with 4:48 to go that took the Cavaliers lead to 10. At that point, the final nail in the coffin had been sealed on a Pistons comeback.
Even though it is the preseason, this a positive game for the Cavaliers. The defeated an improved Pistons team without many of their key players, which should give them confidence heading into the season. Varejao and Thompson were effective while playing together, Taylor may have taken the lead in the backup point guard race and Clark took positive strides. And, as always, it’s nice to know that your star player can carry you to a win even on his off nights.