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How Ersan Ilyasova killed the Cavs -- spacing, spacing, spacing

The quiet summer pick up has made some noise for his new team, and Tuesday night's win over Cleveland showed how much he can contribute.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons fought hard to come back and upset the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-99 on Tuesday night in front of an intense Palace crowd.

In a night where the starting lineup stuffed the stat sheet, it was hard to pick out one performance on which to focus. Sure, the aggressive Reggie Jackson stood out, and Andre Drummond got his customary double-double. Dre also hit clutch free throws (FREE THROWS) to give the Pistons the lead late. But in between these star performances, there were smaller moments where the Quiet Charge (working nickname) Ersan Ilyasova showed how huge of a pickup he was this past summer.

Going back to his offseason trade, I'll admit I had doubts. I just was never sold on him in Milwaukee and his defensive lapses worried me. But I said my Stan of Allegiance every morning and trusted that SVG knew what he was doing.

Which he did, because he's the Notorious SVG. While he hasn't been the most vocal or flashy Pistons player through the first 11 games, his contributions have spoken loud and clear. Last night was his most definitive statement yet, with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting and going 4-for-6 from 3-point land. And how did Ersan light it up like this? Spacing, spacing, spacing, spacing.

Man, the spacing is a thing of beauty. It's just acres and acres of space the Pistons have on offense. It's like I was watching basketball through a Disney Viewfinder toy the past few years, and suddenly someone pulled my eyes away to a 4K TV.

Now I know the DBB professor emeritus Mike Payne raised serious (and warranted) concerns about Van Gundy's 1-in/4-out blueprint with Drummond, but I'd argue that calling Drummond the key is misguided. It's the stretch four, the Ersan Ilyasova factor, that truly makes or breaks the blueprint.

You can count on one hand how often Ersan starts a play in the paint. Instead, his main job is to sit weakside from the Jackson Drummond pick-and-roll. And the way they initiate the play with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Marcus Morris, or even running multiple picks with Drummond, can sometimes leave Ersan room to float, meaning he gets looks like this.


This is after Drummond sets two picks for Reggie, and preoccupies the defense enough for Ersan to go unnoticed.

Even when he's not floating in the corner from a Jackson-Drummond play, he can initiate. Like in the fourth quarter with a little more than 5 minutes left. He and KCP run a quick two-man pick-and-fade, giving Ilyasova such a wide open look he had time to take a practice dribble before the shot.

To stick with the endless 2008-09 Orlando Magic comparison, (and I realize that by writing this I'm falling victim to the exact comparison I am bemoaning), does that Magic team even make the Finals without Rashard Lewis getting hot? The guy averaged nearly 20 points in the playoffs. Sure his shots were dependent on the Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard pick-and-roll, but he still has to make those shots to keep defenses honest, and frozen on said pick and rolls.

Late in the fourth, Reggie hit a lean-in Sheryl Sandberg patented jumper to tie the game. The space for the jumper was not just Mozgov accounting for a rolling Drummond, but Love freezing on help because he's covering Ersan.


If Ersan's not 4-of-6 from downtown at this point, Reggie might not get this look.

Outside of just spacing the floor incredibly well, he does a good job of putting himself in positions to succeed. It's something that I don't think you can truly coach, a player just kind of knows the right places on the court to be for things.

A good example of this is In the end of the second quarter, Ersan just floats on the low block with time running out as Morris shoots a three. But when the shot goes up, he sneakily gets position on boxing out Tristian Thompson, leaving only James Jones to compete with Drummond for the offensive board.


This, in turn, freed Drummond for the tip-in of Morris's miss, keeping it a one-point game.

Teams are so focused on Jackson and Drummond, that Ilyasova is given breathing room to play to his strengths on offense. Defensively, he could switch a little quicker - but the man is leading the league in charges taken, so I can barely talk.

For the Pistons to be successful, Ilyasova has to continue to play the way he has the first 11 games. The quiet charge has given this team a much-needed dimension to the offense, one that changes the way teams play Jackson and Drummond, and could quietly charge the Pistons season.