CLEVELAND: There is a little-known rule in the NBA that prevents teams from targeting a terrible free throw shooter in a game’s final minutes. Tristan Thompson insists he knew about the rule prior to the final 20 seconds of Wednesday’s 111-104 loss to the Detroit Pistons, but watching television replays makes that debatable.
Regardless, Thompson will always be cognizant of it now.
In a season filled with staggering collapses and crushing defeats, the Cavaliers discovered the “away from play” rule as yet another creative, unconventional way to lose a basketball game.
The Cavs spent the game’s final five minutes targeting Pistons rookie Andre Drummond, who began the night shooting 34-percent from the free-throw line. But the “away from play” rule prevents teams from intentionally fouling a player away from the ball in the game’s last two minutes simply to put him on the line.
After Kyrie Irving missed a 3-pointer with the Cavs down 105-103 and 20 seconds left, Drummond grabbed the rebound and Thompson immediately lunged for him. But Drummond wisely gave up possession almost immediately. No foul was initially called, but Thompson continued to grab Drummond and slap him on the back – even looking at referee Nick Buchert as if pleading for a foul call – while Brandon Knight advanced the ball on the other side of the court.
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank – fully aware of the rule – raced onto the court pointing at Thompson and shouting at Buchert for the foul call while Thompson continued to grab Drummond and slap him on the back.
Left with no choice, Buchert called Thompson for the “away from play” foul, which awarded two free throws to the Pistons (which Rodney Stuckey shot) and possession of the ball. It effectively ended any chance at victory and gave the Pistons a sweep of the four-game series this season.
“I tried to foul him right away, but they called it after he passed it,” Thompson said. “I guess it’s my fault.”
Thompson said he knew about the rule and said he didn’t grab Drummond again after he gave up possession, although replays clearly show that he did.
“Young, second-year player mistake,” Scott said.
Thompson was simply carrying out orders Scott had given earlier in the quarter, when the Cavs sent Drummond to the line seven times in 3 ½ minutes late in the game. But all of those fouls came prior to the game’s last two minutes, when the “away from play” rule takes effect. Scott said he didn’t go over the rule with the players.
“I don’t think you sit down in the locker room and say, ‘This is the rule.’ You always say, ‘Guy gets the ball, foul him,’” Scott said. “(Drummond) got the rebound and passed it. (Thompson) was thinking right, it was just way too late.”
Drummond made his first nine shots and scored a career-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds. He even made 9 of 17 free throws, including 8 of 14 during the 3 ½ minutes when the Cavs fouled him on nearly all of the Pistons’ possessions. The plan worked long enough to give the Cavs a brief 98-97 lead with three minutes left – so Scott took the play off just long enough for Will Bynum to make a 3-pointer and put the Pistons back on top.
Irving had 27 points and nine assists, including 11 points in the fourth quarter, but he turned the ball over five times and has 13 in his last two games. He struggled shooting the ball again most of the night and committed two costly turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Dion Waiters returned from his knee injury and scored 11 points in 15 minutes off the bench. He was under strict orders to play between 15 and 20 minutes, although Scott believes that minute total will be allowed to increase over the final four games. He hasn’t decided yet whether or not he will return Waiters to the starting lineup.
Thompson has been a terrific leader both on and off the court for the Cavs in recent weeks, but his mental error compounded his problems on a difficult night when he struggled to defend the Pistons’ Greg Monroe.
The Pistons pounded the Cavs for 60 points in the paint, and Monroe and Drummond accounted for 52 of them.