MCT/Auburn Hills, Michigan
Before this series started, before the Cavaliers rolled to a first-round sweep of the Detroit Pistons, one team executive openly wondered whether Kyrie Irving was sandbagging parts of the regular season. He showed flashes defensively and offensively, but rarely did he put it together for consistent stretches following knee surgery that cost him the first two months of the season.
The sandbags are off. Irving is soaring.
Irving scored 31 points Sunday, including a half-court buzzer-beater to close the third quarter and a huge 3-pointer in the game’s final minute to secure a 100-98 victory Sunday and a sweep of the Pistons. Now the Cavs will enjoy a lengthy break prior to their next series.
The Cavs will play the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, but that series is tied 2-2 and guaranteed to last until at least Thursday. That means the Cavs’ next series won’t start before next weekend.
The Pistons had a chance to win it and extend this series to a fifth game in Cleveland, but Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Cavs the sweep.
Irving scored 10 consecutive points early in the third quarter to stretch the Cavs’ lead to 67-56. After Tobias Harris tied the game at 78 with 3.3 seconds left in the quarter, Irving dribbled to half court and heaved as the buzzer sounded. The shot, officially registered at 41 feet, gave the Cavs momentum at 81-78 and left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy with a stunned look on his face. Van Gundy has lamented Irving’s terrific shooting throughout this series and Irving did it to them again Sunday.
After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer pulled the Pistons to within 97-96 in the game’s final minute, Irving dribbled the shot clock down before swishing a 3-pointer from the wing with 43 seconds left.
“I just think Kyrie, he’s built for these moments,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “He didn’t play last year for a long stretch of the playoffs and then came in Game 1 of the Finals like he never missed a beat. He relishes these moments. I’m glad to have him.”
Irving averaged 27.5 points and shot 47 percent from 3-point range in this series after averaging 19.6 points and shooting a career-worst 32 percent from range during the regular season.
“He missed the whole summer. He missed training camp. I think he missed the first 30 games or so,” Lue said. “And now he’s just finally getting into his rhythm. We’ve just got to keep him in this rhythm and keep him being aggressive.”
Irving led the Cavs in scoring in this series, a rarity on a team that includes LeBron James.
James had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists Sunday and Kevin Love had 11 points and 13 rebounds. Love grabbed his left elbow early in the first quarter in a scene eerily similar to last year’s Game 4 victory against the Boston Celtics in the first round when Love separated his shoulder.
Love seemed frustrated at the moment, but was able to stay in the game. However, he struggled through his worst shooting game of the series (3-of-15). All of that matters little at this point. James has swept his last four first-round opponents, and Van Gundy was swept in a series for the first time in his career.
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