One shot and a whole lotta hustle, and poof, Cavs stay alive

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, left, shoots the game-winning shot against Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, right, to defeat the Pistons 97-96 as the clock ran out during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Duane Burleson/AP

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Believe it or not, there’s still time for a little magic here, kids.

That’s something Dion Waiters and the suddenly fun-loving Cavaliers proved Wednesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Cavs down one. Just more than 3 seconds left. Waiters receives the inbounds pass. He’s closely defended. Bottom. At the buzzer. Cavs beat Detroit 97-96.

Nothing to it, right?

"My time was tonight," said Waiters, who finished with 18 points — the final two, of course, being the biggest. "I knew it was going in. That’s my patented move."

Perhaps not realizing it was Waiters’ patented move was Waiters’ coach.

"I told him to drive," Mike Brown said.

Waiters shot a 19-foot fadeaway instead.

"That’s how much he listens to me," Brown joked.

Oh, did we mention the Cavs trailed 82-66 at the end of the third quarter? In case we didn’t, Brown got a reminder from Nick Gilbert, owner Dan Gilbert’s son, who was in attendance. Anyone who’s witnessed Nick Gilbert at the NBA draft lottery knows his mere presence tends to bring good fortune. So having him around sure couldn’t hurt.

Those who don’t believe in superstitions and good-luck charms can place their faith in the guys on the floor. The Cavs (29-44) have won three straight, including two on the road. How’s that for playing your best when it means the most?

Oh, did we mention the previous six all came without injured leading scorer and assist man Kyrie Irving?

Prior to Wednesday, the Cavs shot 50 percent or better in four of their previous five games. That wasn’t the case against the Pistons. Instead, the Cavs made the rim cringe with fear to the tune of 43 percent.

But the only thing at which the Cavs chipped away was the Pistons’ lead. They did it by any means necessary and they received contributions from everyone.

Undrafted rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova had the night of his life, drilling five of his seven 3-pointers and finishing with a team-high 21 points. Anderson Varejao was his typical Mr. Everywhere self by corralling 16 rebounds (with 12 underrated points). Jarrett Jack, seemingly inspired by a trash-talking Pistons fan, went for 17 points, including 11 in the all-important fourth.

And Luol Deng shot 3-of-14.

But those are just numbers. The veteran small forward made his mark in another way, and if you ask Brown, it was crucial.

"Luol in the huddles … he was keeping ME composed," Brown said. "He had a huge impact that’s not going to show up on the stat sheet."

On the other hand, the Pistons (26-45) seemed taken aback by the Cavs’ audacity to believe they still had a chance, despite trailing by 13 with 7:00 remaining. The Cavs buckled down on defense and the Pistons just buckled.

"They got aggressive," said Pistons guard Brandon Jennings (17 points). "We had a couple bad possessions down the stretch and they were able to counter and get shots."

OK, so what does it mean?

It means the Cavs won’t let you stop thinking they have a chance to extend this deal beyond the regular season. Oh, you can say the Cavs are out of it, but that’s not the actual truth.

The actual truth is they are just 3 ½ back of Atlanta for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. They have nine games to go (including a biggie in Atlanta on April 4). And the Hawks appear to be in no hurry to secure a potential berth, considering they’ve lost four straight.

But the Cavs can’t worry about that. All they can do is keep winning. All they can do is keep making magic. Because magic can take you places you never dream, and that’s what happened Wednesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

"Our guys keep finding ways to win games," Brown said, and if that continues, hey, dare to dream, right?

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