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Cavaliers on track with victory over Pistons

Cavaliers on track with victory over Pistons

If you love pro basketball at its best, this game was for you.

At least, if you're a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

You saw your team not just beat the Detroit Pistons, 97-84, on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena, but beat them at their own game - never easy, as these Pistons had won nine in a row and now have a 24-4 record.

How does Detroit win?

Defense. Rebounding. Share the ball. Move on offense, hustle even more on defense. Which is how the Cavs won for the seventh time in eight games.

Best of all, they did it without LeBron James doing everything.

"When you face a guy like LeBron, you just figure he'll get 25 to 40 points," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "He was very good, but the other guys really hurt us."

He meant Larry Hughes, who had 16 points and consistently came up with long rebounds, loose balls and some crucial steals.

He meant Drew Gooden, scoreless in his last game, who came back with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

He meant Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who scored 18 points and had 11 rebounds.

He meant Donyell Marshall, who scored 13 points with six rebounds and made a couple of crucial 3-pointers when Detroit seemed set on trying to make a comeback.

Cavs coach Mike Brown doesn't talk about offense, because he wants his team to do nothing but think defense.

Yes, defense does win games.

"When you shoot 35 percent, that means you're missing some open shots," Saunders said. "But they also had something to do with it."

What impressed Saunders the most was how the Cavaliers have changed their roster from a year ago to help James.

Let's consider James, who finished with 30 points. He was 11-of-22 from the field with seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and some very good defense on Tayshaun Prince (2-of-12 shooting, four points).

For James, the defense was the result of not having to carry the entire load on offense. He still played 44 heavy minutes, including all of the second half. James showed some strong moves near the basket, which is where he's nearly unstoppable.

As Brown said, "He's 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and the strongest small forward in the league."

Which not even the defensive-minded Pistons could stop.

Just as important, though, James sat for four minutes in the second quarter as the Cavs outscored the Pistons 11-2.

Who would have thought that possible?

Or how about Eric Snow holding Pistons guard Chauncey Billups to 2-of-11 shooting, 14 ugly points. Snow is a gritty veteran point guard who understands Brown's defense system and fits in perfectly with the revamped Cavs, who have plenty of other guys to score.

With Snow starting and the Cavs buying into Brown's game plans, those pick-and-roll plays no longer torment them - as was the case a year ago. Nor does Ilgauskas seem as slow and out of position.

Winning this game means so much to the Cavs and Brown, but not for the reasons that some fans might believe. It's not about sending a message to Detroit or setting up a playoff-type game on the last day of December.

It's that they can play the kind of defense that can shut down the hottest team in the league. Usually, the Cavs struggle guarding the 3-point line, but the Pistons were only 4-of-20 from long range - and remember, Detroit is the NBA's only team shooting better than 40 percent on 3-pointers this season.

For the Cavs, it was a game that showed that they are on the right road - one that finally should take them into the playoffs.

In other NBA action: Dallas 95, New Orleans 90; Phoenix 107, Chicago 98 (OT); Golden State 94, Houston 89; Utah 108, Philadelphia 102; San Antonio 98, Denver 88; Memphis 100, Seattle 96; Boston 111, LA Clippers 92.