The Cleveland Cavaliers open the post-season Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena against the Detroit Pistons, and it doesn’t figure to be as easy as last season’s path to the second round.
As you well remember, the Cavs swept the Boston Celtics a year ago, in a series most known for the Celtics’ physicality. We all recall losing Kevin Love for the balance of the playoffs after his arm was pulled out of its socket by Kelly Olynyk.
We say it won’t be as easy because the conference as a whole is better. Boston was a below .500 team (40-42) in the 2014-15 season, and this year, the Pistons are 44-38, which would have given them the 6th seed a year ago.
That said, the two teams do have some similarities. Both are playoff newcomers, it has been since 2009 that Detroit has been in the post-season, while the Celts were very young a year ago.
Both squads are led in scoring by their point guards. Reggie Jackson leads the Pistons with an 18.8 average, and both Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams (when he was starting at the beginning of the year) had problems containing Jackson.
However, he is just a 35% shooter from behind the arc, so logic dictates that Cavs’ defenders make him knock down a few shots from outside and take away the drive initially. That will be something to watch early in the series.
Unlike Boston though, the Pistons have a dominant presence inside in Andre Drummond, who averaged 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Detroit ranked second in the NBA in offensive boards throughout the season, so it is incumbent on the Cavs to limit the guys from the Motor City to just one shot.
Drummond’s achilles heel though is his free throw shooting. Making just 35.5% of his tosses, it is very likely we will see a lot of deliberate fouling on Cleveland’s part to force the big man to the line, or perhaps to the bench.
It is hard to see coach Stan Van Gundy keeping Drummond on the floor in a close game because of this problem.
Still, it seems like Drummond could be a factor if Tristan Thompson cannot handle him on the boards. We know Thompson is terrific on the glass as well, but the Piston is better.
And because Thompson isn’t really an offensive threat, it leaves Drummond free to contest shots around the basket, meaning the Cavs better have their perimeter game working.
When Channing Frye is in the game, he should get some open looks because Drummond doesn’t want to play outside.
This makes Lue’s handling of Timofey Mozgov more curious. The big man will be needed in this series and in a potential matchup with Toronto in the conference finals
Mid-season acquisition Tobias Harris has been very good for Detroit since coming over from Orlando, but he pales in comparison to LeBron James, who will be his match up.
As usual, the Cavs biggest opponent in this series will be themselves. If Irving and Kevin Love are scoring, it opens things up for JR Smith, and those four can put up 100 points between the quartet.
They also need to move the basketball and lock themselves in on defense. If they don’t forget that is their recipe for winning, it should be a short series.
But make no mistake, these Pistons have some weapons which have been problems for the Cavaliers. If they don’t pay attention to detail, Detroit could steal a game or two.