CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers did their part, but the Boston Celtics did not.
Cleveland put on a basketball clinic for large portions of its impressive 122-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, but saw its playoff hopes come to an end when the Atlanta Hawks rallied to beat the Celtics.
“It’s more of an empty feeling that you have now that your chances are done,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, who had just finished watching the end of the Hawks game in the locker room. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done. It’s inevitable. It’s definitely going to be on my mind.”
The Cavs (32-47), who are 16-14 over their last 30 games, displayed against the Pistons (29-50) that they are a much better team now than they were during a disappointing 16-33 start.
Behind solid contributions from a ton of players and crisp, unselfish ball movement that led to a season-high 41 assists on 53 field goals, the Cavs led by 32 points in the first half and by as many as 34 in the second.
A little more than 30 minutes after the final buzzer, however, their feint playoff hopes were dashed when the Hawks beat the Celtics 105-97.
“We put ourselves in this hole,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It is what it is. I just wish we could have a couple days back from early on.”
Either that or a few more months to continue to build on what the Cavs have established in the last 30 games, all of which was on display against the disinterested Pistons.
“It’s tough,” Cleveland veteran Anderson Varejao said. “Going into the season, we thought we had a chance to make the playoffs. We had some ups and downs, we had some injuries, and we didn’t make the playoffs. We just need to finish the season strong.
“I feel like everybody is starting to understand what we all need to do, defensively and offensively, to win games. We know we have to compete for 48 minutes.”
A little more than 24 minutes was good enough against Detroit, which played like it had no desire to be in Cleveland.
Dion Waiters had 22 points and eight assists for the Cavs, Tyler Zeller had 18 points on 9-for-11 shooting, Matthew Dellavedova had 14 points and a career-high 12 assists, Spencer Hawes had 13 of his 15 points in the first eight minutes of the game, Varejao had 11 points and 12 rebounds and Luol Deng had 13 points and seven assists.
Irving had eight points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in just 23 minutes, but he set the tone by getting all his assists in the first quarter.
“The way we started off the game was a different focus, a great one,” Irving said. “We were getting each other involved.”
The Cavs came out and shared the ball like the Celtics of the 1960s, recording 14 assists on 14 first-quarter baskets to take a 31-18 lead. Cleveland made it 15 assists on 15 hoops to start the second period before Zeller ended the streak with a put-back.
A 12-0 run to start the second quarter put Cleveland up 43-18, and with Dellavedova taking over for Hawes in the 3-point department and for Irving in the passing category, it was soon 58-28 in favor of the Cavs.
“If he knew how to rebound, he would have had a triple-double,” Brown joked of the feisty Dellavedova, who had four boards.
Cleveland led 69-37 at intermission and set a franchise record with 26 assists in the first half. Dellavedova had seven assists at that point, with Irving and Waiters getting five each and Deng four.
“We were embarrassed in the first half,” Detroit coach and former University of Akron player John Loyer said. “This is an unforgiving league.”
The Cavs’ 26 assists came on 30 field goals as they shot a sizzling .638 from the field (30-for-47) in the first half. In a 38-point second quarter, Cleveland connected at a .696 clip (16-for-23) and went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, three of them by Dellavedova.
“The ball was hopping,” Brown said. “Nobody held on to it longer than they should have.”
The Cavs were able to hold on to their playoff hopes in the horrible Eastern Conference longer than they deserved to, but their recent improvement gives them something to build on.
“I feel good,” Brown said, “about the direction we’re heading.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.