AUBURN HILLS, MICH.: The Cavaliers have put up an admirable effort on most nights despite the absence of Kyrie Irving. But removing Dion Waiters, too, was bound to lead offensive disaster – even against one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The Cavaliers lost to the Detroit Pistons 89-79 Monday in front of about 3,000 fans. It could’ve been much worse. The Pistons led by 22 in the first half and appeared to be headed toward a blowout until they realized they entered as a five-win team incapable of playing that well for 48 minutes.
The Cavs pulled within 85-79 on a pair of Anderson Varjeao free throws with 1:54 left, but dug too big of a deficit too early and ran out of time at the end.
The Cavs fell behind 30-17 after the first quarter, when the Pistons shot 62 percent and blocked seven shots. It swelled to 49-27 with 3:58 left in the half and the Cavs simply didn’t have the firepower to rally.
The Cavs shot a season-low 34 percent and made just 3 of 20 3-pointers. Without their two best facilitators, the rest of the team struggled getting open looks and failed to convert on the rare occasions they did.
Waiters was scratched before the game with a sprained left ankle he suffered in Saturday’s double-overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. That meant the Cavs were without their two leading scorers, who combine for 38 of the Cavs’ 97 points a night.
Missing all that production was bound to lead to problems, such as the start of the fourth quarter, when the Cavs went nearly four minutes without a basket.
Their first five possessions of the fourth quarter included four turnovers and five missed shots – including blowing a few open looks underneath on offensive rebounds. Yet they still only trailed 79-66 after Omri Casspi’s 3-pointer with 8:15 left.
Casspi got the start in place of Waiters, with Alonzo Gee shifting to shooting guard.
Cavs coach Byron Scott said he chose Casspi over Daniel Gibson because Gibson surrenders about six inches to the Pistons’ starting shooting guard, Kyle Singler, and Scott was afraid Singler would’ve posted up Gibson most of the night and forced the Cavs into unwanted double teams.
Plus Casspi has been playing better of late, so Scott rewarded him with his first start since late last season, also against the Pistons.
“He’s played well,” Scott said of Casspi. “I really didn’t hesitate starting him. That’s really a tribute to the way he’s been playing on both ends. He’s been doing a real solid job.”
Casspi had 10 points and four rebounds, Tristan Thompson had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Anderson Varejao kept his double-double streak alive with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Varejao extended his team record to nine consecutive games with a double-double.
Brandon Knight had 17 points and five assists, Singler had 15 points, Jason Maxiell had five of Detroit’s 13 blocks and Greg Monroe had 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who have half of their six wins in their last five games after starting the season 0-8.
As for Waiters’ status going forward, he’s possible to play Wednesday when the Cavs host the Chicago Bulls. There was just too much soreness in the ankle to risk playing him against the Pistons.
“If it’s that sore, there’s really no need to put him out there and risk it getting worse,” Scott said. “Let’s give it a few more days and see how he feels for Wednesday.”