Backscreens: Cavs take steps in right direction in win

Kevin Love and the Cavaliers fought their way past the Pistons.

Random backscreens on the Cleveland Cavaliers 121-104 feel-good victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena…

1. It felt like the good ol’ days for the Cavaliers, who put together three good quarters of offense and one outstanding quarter of defense en route to the win. Cleveland scored 31 or more points in all but the second quarter, but — get this — put the clamps on the Pistons in the fourth, holding them to 17 points on 29-percent shooting.

2. Numbers aside, Channing Frye provided huge lifts for the Cavaliers, both physically and emotionally. The 34-year-old, 12-year veteran finished with modest numbers (7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 21 minutes), but his constant communication on defense as part of the group that also included LeBron James, Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder that started and played most of the decisive fourth quarter was an obvious tangible.

3. The even-more-obvious intangibles were the reactions of his teammates after two outstanding offensive plays. The first came on a putback dunk on a 3-point miss by Isaiah Thomas with 7:44 to go in the second quarter. The entire Cleveland bench erupted after Frye’s throwdown, charging onto the floor to greet him after a Detroit timeout, including a leaping hip bump from J.R. Smith.

4. Frye’s reaction to Smith’s “greeting:” “I love celebrating, but just give me a simple handshake or a high-five. So I don’t get sleepy on the bench.”

5. The other intangible was Frye’s up-and-under move off a no-look pass from James with 5:26 to play in the game that forced a Detroit timeout and gave the Cavaliers a 102-97 lead.

6. This takes it to perhaps Sam Amico’s favorite stat of all-time — when Frye plays 11 minutes or more, the Cavaliers are 18-1… and have won 18 in a row. When Frye plays 11 or less minutes, Cleveland is 11-18.

7. Memo to coach Tyronn Lue — play Channing Frye more than 11 minutes… in every game.

8. Memo to general manager Koby Altman — don’t include Channing Frye in any trade, under any circumstances. Judging by results — and 18-1 is the only result that matters — Frye is much more important (at least this season) than the much-discussed unprotected 2018 first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets the Cavaliers have in their back pockets.

9. Much will be made of Isaiah Thomas not playing a second in the fabulous fourth for the Cavaliers, but some perspective is needed. Cleveland finished the third quarter on a terrific 11-2 run, paving the way for what happened in the final 12 minutes. During that stretch, Thomas was outstanding, using the pick-and-roll to get to the rack and also finding the open man.

10. Thomas came out of the chute looking to keep the basketball moving, feeding Kevin Love (20 points, 11 boards in only 27 minutes) in the post and not trying to force shots. Thomas finished with 14 points — his sixth-straight game in double figures — but much more importantly, had a personal Cavalier-high with seven dimes, which was half of what James (more on him in a minute) had, but two more than any Detroit player posted. Worth noting, for just the second time in the 12 games Love and Thomas have played together, Love reached the 20-point mark, needing only three quarters to do so.

11. Also worth noting, Cleveland’s new Big 3 of James (16), Love (20) and Thomas (14) accounted for 50 of Cleveland’s 80 points entering the fourth quarters.

12. Of course, you can bet Thomas not playing in the fourth quarter will produce clickbait headlines and stories across the NBA landscape, but Lue didn’t play Tristan Thompson in the fourth quarter, either.

13. Making his second consecutive start, Thompson was once again active on both ends of the floor. His nine points helped the Cavaliers to stay with the hot-shooting Pistons (10-of-21 from 3) in the first half.

14. Again, much will be made of Lue not playing Thomas in the fourth quarter, but Thompson and Derrick Rose didn’t play in the fourth, either — or even in the second half, for that matter, after nine scoreless minutes in the first two quarters.

15. Smith played well for the second game in a row, finishing with 15 points, four rebounds and an assist in 29 minutes. All seven shots Smith attempted were from beyond the arc, making four of them.

16. In the last two games, Smith has totaled 38 points — on 12-of-22 shooting, including 11-of-20 from 3 — four rebounds and four steals. If Smith can continue to resemble the guy he’s been the last two games, the same guy he’s been the last three seasons, it will go a long way toward him remaining a Cavalier once the Feb. 8 trade deadline passes.

17. Back to James, finally. Once again, he was outstanding, posting 25 points (on 8-of-15 shooting), eight rebounds and the aforementioned 14 assists in 38 minutes, his 27th double-double on the season. While the big numbers were spectacular, as normal, the fact James had but three turnovers is perhaps even more telling.

18. James’ turnover total was telling because he played the entire fourth quarter, save for the final minute and change when Cedi Osman closed the door, at point guard. With James orchestrating the offense, the Cavaliers kept the pressure on the Pistons, pulling away down the stretch.

19. LeBron had 11 turnovers in the win over the Pacers on Friday night, something he correctly deemed, “unacceptable.”

20. With Dwyane Wade missing a second game as he is away from the team mourning the loss of his agent and father figure, Henry Thomas, Lue played 10 guys 20 or more minutes, six of whom reached double figures and Thompson (9 points, 4 rebounds), Frye and Green (5 points, 2 boards, 1 assist) were also effective.

21. Even without Wade, the Cavalier bench was once again instrumental in recording a win. The Cleveland backups outscored their Detroit counterparts, 38-24.

22. Crowder seems more comfortable in the role he filled so well during his days with the Celtics — coming off the bench. Crowder had a dozen points, three rebounds and a block in 26 active minutes. Crowder even put the ball on the floor on a couple drives, something that’s happened on an infrequent basis since becoming a Cavalier on Aug. 22.

23. It will be interesting to see what Lue does if Wade returns for the rematch Tuesday night in the Motor City as expected. The Cavaliers coach seems to struggle with finding the right mix of guys the more guys he has available. Iman Shumpert, who started last Tuesday at San Antonio, did not play Sunday night. Neither did Jose Calderon.

24. The Cavaliers also played with pace, besting the Pistons in fastbreak points, 20-4. Getting stops on the defensive end allows Cleveland to get out and run and with James, with a dash of Thomas sprinkled in, at the controls, the Cavaliers are a very dangerous basketball team, as evidenced by their 10-of-20 shooting performance from 3 in the second half.

25. Through three quarters, Korver appeared as if he was on track for another night in “Strugglesville.” He entered the game have not made more than one field goal in six consecutive games and through three quarters Sunday, he was 1-of-6 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3.

26. However, perhaps taking his constant “keep-shooting!” cue from James, he caught fire in the fourth. Korver made all three shots he took in the final period, including both attempts from beyond the arc.

27. It was Korver’s block of a shot from behind on Detroit’s Luke Kennard with 10:30 to play — and his left-to-right “rip-move” and baseline drive to the rack for a bucket with 1:57 to play that gave the Cavaliers a 113-102 lead and forced a Detroit timeout — that were topped only by Frye’s aforementioned pair of plays on the list of did-you-see-that?! moments on the night.

28. Pistons big man Andre Drummond finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, but with Thompson and, in the fourth quarter, Frye, staying with him on the glass, he finished with three less than his season-average of 14 boards.

29. Not that this night was all sunshine and rainbows for the Cavaliers. The Pistons torched them in the first half for 61 points, especially from beyond the arc, where they nailed 10-of-21 attempts. Detroit came to Cleveland in a seven-game tailspin and for much of three quarters, played the Cavaliers to a draw.

30. Veteran forward Anthony Tolliver, a former training-camp final cut by the Cavaliers more than a few seasons ago, reminded Love that part of his responsibility of moving from center back to his more-comfortable power-forward slot is defending against opposing stretch-4 guys. The 32-year-old Tolliver had tied a season-high with 18 points and added five assists, nailing five treys — through three quarters. Tolliver, who played a game-high (for both teams) 40 points,  finished by tying Tobias Harris for Detroit scoring honors with 20 points.

31. Regardless, everyone who bleeds Wine and Gold left The Q with smiles on their faces after this one. The win marked the first time in more than six weeks — 42 days, to be exact — the Cavaliers (29-19) have won two games in a row.

6 Comments on "Backscreens: Cavs take steps in right direction in win"

  1. Very good rundown, Don. Whole-heartedly agree 2,000 percent with numbers 6, 7, & 8. FRYE IS SO VALUABLE WITH THE BENCH, no matter who fills in those surrounding positions.
    The versatility of being able to use, D-Rose, D-Wade, Calderon, Cedi, Green, Crowder, & KORVER — WITH FRYE, is actually terrific, if used properly.
    You could alternate those older guys every other game, especially on back to backs to give rest & reduce injury. You’d almost have a fresh bench the next night. If you count them, you could have a rotation of 12-13 guys keepin it Fresh, BUT you have to have a Floor spacer like Frye, NOT TT, to help the slice & Dice Drives, & kickback 3’s.

    • Don McCormack Don McCormack | January 29, 2018 at 1:58 am |

      Hey, DR… thanks very much for the kind words. You’re onto something, IMHO, in terms of the Cavaliers being able to go several different ways toward achieving their goals. The key is, though, if Tyronn Lue can decipher what the best combinations are on any given night — as Terry Francona does so masterfully well with the Indians — and perhaps just as importantly, whether the players can put their egos aside for the betterment of the team. As always, thanks very much for reading!

  2. I think a lot of the issues (not all) are going to be solved by Frye getting more playing time and Love moving back to PF. I scratched my head in the beginning of the season when Lue made the change, but I understood the move since the Cavs needed to find some way to reinvent themselves if they want to beat the Dubs. Love has always demonstrated that he’s a horrible rim protector and the Cavs have been lacking in that area since Lebron got to Cleveland, so outside of TT being injured, his move to Center never really made sense to me personally.

    I think it was even more perplexing that Frye was spending entire games on the bench. He has length, can stretch the floor with his 3 pt shooting, and is able to defend the rim much better than Love. So the fact that Lue wasn’t giving him any time was especially frustrating to me as a Cavs fan. I also hope that Lue isn’t too fixated on pushing the pace, it’s been a constant theme of his head coaching career in Cleveland, is one of the reasons why Kyrie wanted out, and I’m not exactly sure that it’s the best strategy anyway if you have the Warriors in your sights. The Cavs won their chip against them by slowing the game down and not allowing them to play at their rhythm, and I would argue that setting a higher pace with these older veterans, is just not going to work against Golden State.

    I can certainly understand where T Lue is coming from with his strategies, but I truly think a lot of the blame for the Cavs’ struggles lies squarely at his feet. But that’s what being a coach is about, having the guts to make unpopular decisions so that you can test what you have, even if those decisions fail miserably. At the end of the day I appreciate the effort, I just hope all the self inflicted struggle pays off.

  3. Good article. It is becoming clearer every game that Lue biggest problem is with the rotation. That stat with wins with Frye in the game is the most puzzling. I think 19 games is a big enough sample, put together with the fact that they are losing is the kicker. Korver is struggling when Frye is not in the game yet the only reason he played the last 2 games is because Wade is out.

    Cedi is out of the rotation completely the only thing he does is play hard and rebound. For a rook he doesnt make a lot of mistakes. LeBron is playing too many mins and for no other reason than Lue cant coach. Older players tend to get hurt when the workload is heavy. He needs to stop playing 12 straight mins especially with the change in timeout allotments.

  4. Great rundown. Thanks for your consistently great coverage of the Cavs. (Sam, too).

    • Thank you for reading and following along — and mostly, for including me in that comment. 🙂

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