The first round series between the Cavaliers and Pistons has been nothing if not entertaining. Cleveland won Game 3 with a 101-91 score on Friday, but it was Detroit who pushed them until the final minute. Several key defensive plays kept the game close, but a ridiculous Kyrie Irving three-pointer falling away in the corner put the Cavaliers up by eight points with 43 seconds left, all but sealing the win.
The win gives Cleveland a 3-0 lead and a stranglehold on the series, hardly a surprise for a 1 vs. 8 seed matchup. Still, Detroit has played admirably in these three games, pushing Cleveland on their home court in Game 1 before following up that performance with another tight game on Friday.
But once again, Cleveland's three stars were too much to overcome. Irving led the way, scoring 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting including that huge triple towards the end. Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds while LeBron James struggled from the field (8-of-24) but still notched an all-around line of 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. It was James who found Irving on that huge final three.
KYRIE DAGGGER !!!! pic.twitter.com/bdVRZSvaqV— gifdsports (@gifdsports) April 23, 2016
The Pistons did well to keep up with Cleveland most of the night and shot 50 percent from the field, but only six made threes and a significant rebounding deficit cost them during the long run. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way with 18 points while their entire starting scored at least 13.
Game 4 and potentially the final game of the series will take place in Detroit on Sunday.
1. This has been the best played series of the first round
The opening week of the NBA playoffs largely consisted of blowouts, the Cavaliers and the Pistons have been the exception. Cleveland is clearly the better team, but Game 1's 96-91 Cavaliers win came down to the final minute and Detroit wasn't terrible in Game 2 despite the 107-90 final score. And then there was Friday, a back-and-forth thriller that was just fantastic to watch, whether it was J.R. Smith nailing a huge three or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answering back with a leak-out slam.
None of the middle-seeded series -- Boston vs. Atlanta, Los Angeles vs. Portland and Miami vs. Charlotte -- have really lived up to the expectations set for them prior to the postseason. But while those scores have been lopsided, the Pistons have put up a fight every game while Stanley Johnson gave us fun headlines with his verbal sparring levied at LeBron James. This has been the enjoyable series of the first round, more than any other, even if Cleveland's in complete control.
2. You can see the Pistons' future ahead of them
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has had a fantastic series, guarding James and hitting shots on the other end. Headlines aside, Stanley Johnson had a solid rookie campaign and will only keep getting better. Detroit isn't going to let Drummond go anywhere this summer as he hits restricted free agency. Imagine how good this Stan Van Gundy team will be in a couple years, with Drummond anchoring the middle and the younger wings surrounding him.
Getting to the playoffs, even if they don't win a game, was a good start for this team. They've accelerated their timeline with the Tobias Harris acquisition at the deadline, but it takes time for those changes to properly mesh. Next season, this team can really get going.
3. Cleveland goes as their Big Three does
As much drama as has surrounded the Cavaliers this season and as many times as they lost to teams they shouldn't have, maybe Cleveland will still be fine. When the Big Three goes off like they did on a night like Friday, with James facilitating while Irving and Love efficiently fill in additional points, you see how dangerous they can be. Dangerous enough to realistically compete with a Warriors or Spurs team? That's the big question. But right now, the Cavaliers are coming together almost as well as they have all season, despite the Pistons giving them as much fight as they can.