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After winning their 11th straight postseason contest against the Pistons on Friday night, the Cavaliers stand one win away from moving on to the Conference Semifinals.
In Game 3, the Wine and Gold again got big performances from the Big Three – but got plenty of contributions from the entire squad. In the victory, the Cavaliers returned to the formula that’s staked them to a 3-0 series edge – draining a dozen three-pointers and clamping down defensively on Detroit in the second stanza, holding them to 38 points after intermission.
Through three games, the Cavaliers have hit an NBA-best 44 three-pointers, matching the 2003 Mavericks for the most triples in a three-game postseason span. They’ve also featured three players notching 20-plus points in all three games, the first time a Cavaliers club has ever done so in the Playoffs. The Cavaliers have also never not completed a series sweep after leading 3-0 – including last year’s First Round series with Boston and the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta.
Stan Van Gundy’s squad has stuck with the Wine and Gold in the first halves of the first three games, but simply haven’t had the horses to go the distance. On Sunday night, they’ll try to extend the series and take it back to Cleveland on Tuesday night.
The last third of the Big Three to find his rhythm late in the regular season was Kyrie Irving. But he’s been outstanding since the Playoffs tipped off one week ago.
The three-time All-Star has topped the 20-point mark in each of the series’ first three games, averaging a team-high 26.3 points to go with 4.7 assists and 1.3 steals to put the Cavs on the cusp of the sweep.
On Friday night, Irving went 11-for-20 shooting, including 3-of-6 from long-distance – drilling his final trey with 43 seconds remaining in regulation with less than a second on the shot-clock to give Cleveland an eight-point edge. In the series, Kyrie is shooting 52 percent from long-distance – going 12-for-23 from deep.
Detroit’s mercurial point guard, Reggie Jackson has had a solid series, but the Cavaliers have continued to frustrate him further with each passing game. On Friday night, the Wine and Gold held Jackson to 13 points on just 5-for-16 shooting, including 1-of-8 from long-distance, although he did lead both squads with 12 assists.
Jackson has seen a steady diet of J.R Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova – and the trio has kept him well under wraps so far.
If Kyrie came into the postseason still searching for his rhythm, his teammate LeBron James entered the tournament as the league’s hottest player – and he’s barely slowed down in the NBA’s second season.
On Friday night, the Wine and Gold’s “tank” overcame a slow shooting night – going just 8-of-24 from the floor and 1-of-6 from long-range – to help lead his squad to the doorstep of the Second Round, finishing with team-highs in rebounds (13) and assists (7).
James – who needs two blocked shots to pass Larry Nance and sew up another franchise postseason category – is averaging 23.0 points, 8.3 boards, 7.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 block during the first three games of the Playoffs, netting a pair of double-doubles and posting a plus/minus of +45 (the 3rd-highest mark in the 2016 Playoffs).
The Cavaliers have been cross-defending throughout the series, with LeBron matching up mostly against Marcus Morris on the defensive end. Morris hasn’t done much since the first half of Game 1 at The Q and his frustrations continued on Friday night – netting 16 points but grabbing just three boards in 39 minutes of action. Since going 6-of-9 in the first half of the series’ first game, Morris has hit only seven field goals over the next 10 quarters and is averaging only 4.3 points in the second halves of the first three games.
As frustrating as the First Round has been for Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris, it’s been even tougher for Andre Drummond – the league’s leading rebounder who’s been held to 8.3 boards per contest, 6.5 fewer than he averaged during his All-Star regular season.
Just about every time the Cavaliers have taken the lead in the series, they’ve employed the Hack-a-Drummond strategy – and the results have gone exclusively the Wine and Gold’s way. The East’s best pure center went 1-for-6 from the stripe on Friday night and is 6-for-24 for the series.
Drummond still finished with 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting, but was outdone on the boards for the first time in the series by Tristan Thompson, who had easily his best outing of the best-of-seven set on Friday night. After struggling through the first two games of the series – including Game 2, where he went scoreless with a single rebound in only 13 minutes – Thompson went 4-of-7 from the floor to finish with eight points along with 10 boards – eight off the offensive glass.
As a team, the Wine and Gold outrebounded Detroit, featuring four players who grabbed at least nine boards in the victory.
Kevin Love is a living example of how important the final weeks of the regular season are heading into the Playoffs. Love got on a roll over the season’s final three weeks and has continued that roll right through the first three games of the First Round matchup with Detroit.
Love has doubled-up in each contest, topping the 20-point mark twice and averaging a series-best 11.7 boards per contest. Love has been a thorn in the Pistons’ side all season, averaging 22.7 points and 9.5 boards against them in six outings this year – shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 47 percent from long-distance.
Love is an impossible matchup for Drummond when the Cavaliers have gone small and has done an excellent job against Tobias Harris on the defensive end.
Through the first three games of the series, Harris is averaging 11.7 points per game, shooting just 41 percent from the floor and 25 percent from deep. Before going 4-of-5 from the floor in the fourth quarter on Friday night, the Cavaliers had held him to just 5-for-17 in the previous five second-half quarters in the series.