In late June when one looks back at the 2016 NBA playoffs, they'll see that the Cleveland Cavaliers started their run to the NBA finals by "blowing through" the Detroit Pistons 4-0 and followed that up with a 4-0 sweep of the Atlanta Hawks. What they might not (care to) realize is that the No. 8 seed Pistons gave the No. 1 seed Cavs way more of a fight than the No. 4 Atlanta Hawks.
At the end of the series, who cares? What's the difference?
Well, I'll tell ya, quite simply!
In Game 1, the Pistons melted down for a short stretch in the fourth quarter, during which Reggie Jackson picked up a technical foul, and lost a chance to steal a game they legitimately had a shot at taking. It felt that way at least. They lost by five. In all, the game had 17 lead changes, 21 different times being tied and the Pistons led by seven in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks had to battle back from being down all game and as many as 18 in their Game 1. They wouldn't take their first lead of the game until the fourth quarter, but the Cavs turned it back on to win by 11.
In Game 2, the Pistons lost by 17, 107-90. A blow out, right? Well, actually, yeah, kind of, but not until the second half. The Pistons led by 10 at one point in the first half and exchanged leads with the Cavs seven times before the Cavs pulled away more than midway through the third. The Cavs tied the NBA playoff record for threes at the time with 20.
But... But... did you see Game 2 of the Hawks series, though? The Hawks needed to win the fourth quarter 28-17 to not lose by more than 35. They led once, after they made the first basket of the game, and never had a shot after that, trailing 74-38 at the half. The Cavs didn't just tie but shattered the NBA record with 25 threes (most in any NBA regular season or playoff game).
Game 3 in Detroit was awesome despite a 10-point loss. There were 19 lead changes and a MONSTROUS KCP dunk with just under four minutes left in the game to pull the Pistons within two that blew the roof off at The Palace and had fans feeling like they were headed toward cloud nine with a Game 3 victory... until it started raining more ridiculous Cavs threes.
How did the Hawks respond to falling behind 0-2 at home in Game 3? Not bad actually. They led for most of the game, but couldn't stop the Cavs from scoring 121 points behind 21 threes. The Hawks lost by 13.
The Game 4s in each series were remarkably similar. Dennis Shroder played the role of Reggie Jackson. There was even a pre-Game 4 suspension watch. The Hawks probably played their best overall game, trading leads 15 times with the Cavs and only losing by one in the end. The Pistons had to battle back multiple times from double-digit or near-double-digit deficits to keep things close. In the end, though, the Pistons had a better chance at winning a game, getting off a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer that would've counted if it went (Paul Millsap's shot he was lucky to have was late).
All in all, the Pistons swapped leads with the Cavs a total of 54 times in four games. There were only 27 lead changes in the Hawks series. In watching both series, I got the feeling the Pistons gave the Cavs a much tougher test.
One might argue the Cavs got up for the Hawks more than they did for the Pistons. Maybe. Maybe the Pistons woke the Cavs. Hawks fans could fairly say they actually won a first round series, and did so in six games, so they were not as fresh as the younger Pistons coming off a seven-year playoff drought. Maybe the Cavs are getting better as they put it all together. Or maybe the Pistons were way better than their No. 8 seed indicated, are rebuilding well and are closer to becoming a top team in the East. Maybe it's a combination of things. Maybe there's nothing to take from the distinct series.
Being better in getting swept is not really something to write home (or to you all) about, but I did it. I was already excited about the Pistons' future and seeing how the Cavs disposed of the Hawks in four games (for the second straight year, mind you) vs. how the Pistons went down has somehow further justified that thinking. 0-4. 0-4. Sweep. Sweep. Whatever. Our sweep wasn't as clean. Let me have this small consolation prize.
Now your thoughts.