CLEVELAND — Never before has a 22-point rout felt so empty.
But that’s the case after the Cavaliers walloped the Detroit Pistons by a 122-100 count Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs played a near-perfect game, tallying a season-high 41 assists on 53 baskets. They were rewarded by later learning the Atlanta Hawks beat the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs (32-47) from the playoffs.
About the best thing that could be said this season was it took a long time. The Cavs only have three games left. They were in in it until the unfriendly end, and perhaps that can be considered progress. But they also have to factor in how many things went wrong this season — things that kept them from reaching their full potential, things that will result in a fourth straight trip to the NBA Draft lottery.
That is something nobody wanted again. And when it comes to the Cavs, it is one of the few things about this season we can say for sure.
"It’s an empty feeling now that your chances are done," said Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving. "You think about things you could have done, you should have done. It’s inevitable, especially as big a competitor as I am. It’s definitely going to be on my mind."
Coach Mike Brown added the Cavs have no one to blame but themselves. At the same time, both Brown and Irving were positive in their assessments of the overall state of things lately. And you can’t really blame them, as the Cavs are a couple games above .500 in the 30 games since former general manager Chris Grant was fired.
Most folks predicted that the Cavs would finish about even this year. With three games left, the best they can do is 12 games worse than that. Bottom line: There have been a few issues lately, for sure. But nothing compared to earlier this year, when drama and losing seemed to be the name of the game.
"There’s definitely a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas," Irving said. "As a man and as a competitor, you’ve got to suck it up. This is my third year. Obviously, things didn’t go in a perfect way. But there’s no perfect season. For me, it’s just about continuing to grow and finish the season strong."
That type of mindset was on full display Wednesday, as the Cavs turned their night against the Pistons into 48 minutes of garbage time.
Seven players reached double figures in scoring, led by Dion Waiters’ 22 points (and eight assists). Tyler Zeller added 18 points, Spencer Hawes scored 15 and Matthew Dellavedova erupted for his third career double-double with 14 points and 12 assists.
"If he knew how to rebound, he would’ve had a triple-double," Brown joked.
But at the end of the night, there was little room for light-heartedness. It was a 22-point win, yet the Cavs still left the building feeling a little down.
"For this last month, month and a half, or even these last two, we’ve had games that we’d revert back to our old ways, then we’ll have a strong game and go on a winning streak," Irving said. "Our attention to detail has been a lot better. Our film work has been a lot better. Guys are coming in and working every single day. We don’t have those lulls any more where coach has to continue to call timeouts like he did at the beginning of the season, calling four timeouts in a row. Those times are done.
"We’ve come to a point in our season where we trust one another and we’re just playing basketball. I think we’ve formed our identity — just this late. We started to form it these last two months."
So now the Cavs move on to the next phase of major decision-making — of finding ways to avoid doing this same thing all over again. There are no easy answers, and this season is all the evidence you need. You need smart decisions in the draft, a strong culture in the locker room, a coach who can reach his players, and in all honesty, at least a little bit of luck.
Until then, the Cavs are left to play out the string and think about what could have been. It’s not all bad. It just didn’t end well enough.
"You’re left with a lot of positives that we can take from it," Irving said. "You always want to compete for something as special as the playoffs. But our chances were snapped tonight. It’s disappointing."