Fourth-Quarter Fade

Cavs’ Irving leads charge to erase 17-point Pistons lead

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in last June’s draft, didn’t have much of an impact for the better part of three quarters. But when the 100-99 Cavs win turned – the Pistons led by 17 late in the third quarter, but were outscored 38-15 over roughly the next 12-minute segment – it was Irving at the center of it. The Duke rookie point guard finished with 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds, but most of his damage was done in the final quarter: 17 points, two assists and three rebounds. In addition, Irving’s six turnovers came in the first three quarters and his two steals came in the fourth. He had a great battle with Pistons rookie point guard Brandon Knight, who finished with 24 points, three assists and five rebounds and hit a fast-break layup and a triple in the final two minutes, the triple tying the game before an Alonzo Gee dunk with 25 seconds left put the Cavs ahead for good. Antawn Jamison scored 29 of his 32 points in the first three quarters to keep Cleveland in the game.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe’s run of double-double production continued with a 19-point, 11-rebound night, but at halftime it looked like he might even wind up with a triple-double as he had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. Monroe was at the center of the game’s turning point with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter, though, when he was called for fouls on both ends of the floor, both of them on calls that left him baffled and frustrated. After reacting demonstratively to the first one, Monroe even drew a technical foul call. Cleveland made 4 of 5 free throws as a result of the calls against Monroe, cutting a 14-point deficit to 10 and setting the stage for its fourth-quarter comeback.

RED FLAG – The Pistons played for three quarters like the team that had won seven of its last nine games – on a string defensively, sharing the ball offensively. The Cavs shot 42.6 percent through three quarters, right about what they’ve been holding the opposition to of late. In the fourth quarter, the Cavs became the aggressors, a fact underscored most by the rebounding numbers: 18-8 in favor of Cleveland, which grabbed five offensive rebounds to none for the Pistons. The Cavs outscored the Pistons 35-23 in the fourth quarter and after the Pistons forced 16 turnovers in three quarters, Cleveland gave it away just twice in the fourth.

Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving split the vote of college recruiting analysts a few years ago as to who was the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2010. As college freshmen a year ago, they were the consensus top two NBA draft prospects at their position. The fact they wound up on teams in the Central Division sets them up as enduring rivals.

Credit Irving with a first big notch in the belt.

But no one would have guessed as much with a little more than three minutes left in Tuesday’s third quarter, when the Pistons held a 17-point lead and appeared all but certain to win their eighth game in the last 10.

Knight was very good from early to late, but Irving was brilliant in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 25 points. He also had two of his eight assists, two of his five rebounds and zero of his six turnovers in the quarter, when Cleveland outscored the Pistons 35-23.

“We just stopped getting stops,” Knight said after the 100-99 loss that leaves the Pistons at 11-23. “It’s never going to be one player. Anything that we do is going to be on us. We just started giving up easy baskets. I think it was 20 points in the first six minutes of the fourth. It was really just us not buckling down.”

“Everyone says that the fourth quarter is the pressure quarter,” Irving said. “I feel like our team is really prepared for the fourth quarter. We were down, but I had confidence in our team to get stops down the stretch and we did tonight. We started hitting shots and the crowd started getting into it and it felt good. This was a big win for us.”

Irving’s fourth-quarter heroics likely wouldn’t have mattered if the Cavs didn’t put themselves in position for the comeback late in the third quarter. The Pistons led 72-55 when a seemingly innocent Alonzo Gee triple cut the margin to 14. That’s when consecutive calls went against Greg Monroe, one at each end, each leaving him apoplectic, the first so much that the normally stoic Monroe was hit with a technical for throwing his arms up in disbelief. Four Cavs free throws as a result of those calls got them within 10.

They smelled blood in the water and became the aggressors at that point. Against Lawrence Frank’s second unit, the Cavs got within four inside the first three minutes. A triple by Antawn Jamison, who scored 29 through three quarters and finished with 32, gave Cleveland an 86-85 lead at the midway mark of the fourth. The Cavs would lead by six before Monroe and Knight led the Pistons back to tie – Monroe with a blocked shot that led to a fast break Knight finished with a layup, then a Knight triple to tie at 95.

Gee – who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds off the bench – followed his own miss on Cleveland’s next possession and dunked to give the Cavs the lead for good with 25 seconds left. Ben Gordon missed a contested layup on the ensuing possession.

“Irving and Gee, they kicked out tail,” Frank said. “They willed it back for them. You have to give them credit. I don’t think we gifted them the win. I don’t think we didn’t compete and didn’t play hard. I don’t think we gave them the game. I think you have to give credit to Irving and those guys.”

The late collapse cast a pall over otherwise terrific nights for the Pistons’ two emerging young stars, Monroe and Knight. Monroe finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and a career-best seven assists. Knight had 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc, plus five rebounds and three assists.

With the All-Star break looming, the Pistons headed to Toronto for the first-half finale and a chance to recapture the momentum that was surging behind them before Tuesday’s fourth quarter let the air out of their balloon.