CLEVELAND — These are the types of games a rebuilding team isn’t supposed to win.
OK, so the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t like to use the word “rebuilding” very much. I get that. But at the very least, they’re repurposing — kind of like taking what was once a vacant building and decorating it with some fancy lights.
And it was lights out for the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena, as the Cavs overcame a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to escape with a 101-100 win.
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Make that two wins by one point in as many home games, as well as two straight in which Cleveland was mostly saved by 19-year-old rookie Kyrie Irving.
That would be the same Irving who initially looked about as effective as someone wearing cinder blocks for shoes through the first three quarters.
Irving moved slowly. He left his feet and passed the ball to no one in particular. He bent over and clutched his shorts, seemingly wondering if Pistons rookie Brandon Knight ever was gonna stop playing without a chip on his shoulder.
The answer was no on Knight’s part, so Irving was forced to do what he has done all season. He went bonkers in the fourth, scoring 17 of his 25 points and basically willing his team to victory. So much for the talk about how he only compiled three assists in the previous two games combined.
Against the Pistons, Irving finished with eight.
“I didn’t think through the first three quarters, (Irving) was really trying to assert himself,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “In the fourth quarter, he just got more aggressive, getting to the basket and creating shots for himself and his teammates. That just got us going.”
Because Irving waited until the fourth, his night overshadowed a magnificent performance from Antawn Jamison (32 points, 10 rebounds) and a pretty strong one from Alonzo Gee (16 points, 11 rebounds).
Jamison kept the game from getting embarrassing when the Pistons were about to run away with it — scoring all but three of his points in the first three quarters.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6, 219-pound Gee is pure energy and athleticism. Despite this, he had struggled a little in the previous week, with other teams sort of packing it in and keeping him away from the hoop.
But like Irving, Gee was relentless when it meant the most. This was best exemplified with about 30 seconds left and the game in the balance at 95-all.
Gee drove to the basket, had his shot blocked, got the ball back and then went to the other side and slammed it through with two hands. The whole thing seemed to take about a split second, and although the Cavs led by two, the Pistons looked deflated, frustrated.
It’s no wonder Scott said, “We think he’s one of the most improved players in the league.”
Gee is humble and very soft-spoken, acting perfectly content with his role off the bench and often deferring the credit.
Things were no different on this night.
“Kyrie is unbelievable, and I just fed off his energy,” Gee said. “He made good plays for us and set up easy shots.”
So the Cavs improve to 13-17 with a game left before the All-Star break (Wednesday vs. New Orleans), looking a lot better than many thought they would be.
They look like they expect to win, will do so by any means necessary — and they have a rookie in Irving who knows how to get them where they need to go.
Just keeping things interesting. Label that however you’d like.