CLEVELAND — Before the Cavaliers demolished the Detroit Pistons 128-96 Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, coach Tyronn Lue said he felt like his team was on the verge of taking off.
The runway was apparently cleared for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Co., who played so fantastic that Cleveland’s 2-5 start to March quickly seemed like ancient history.
“We stayed focused,” James said. “We kept covering the 3-point line and we kept the ball moving. ... That’s definitely great ingredients for a victory.”
Making 10 straight 3-pointers to start the game, the Cavs led the Pistons 44-26, 74-48 and 103-70 at the quarter breaks, earning the team’s biggest stars the fourth period off.
James posted his third triple-double in the last four games, fifth in the last nine, 10th of the season and 52nd of his regular-season career with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in 28 minutes, while Irving was perfect on four 3-pointers and 9-for-14 overall en route to 26 points and six assists in 30 minutes.
Shooting guard Iman Shumpert was just as effective, putting up 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, while veteran forward Richard Jefferson had 16 points and Deron Williams (13), Derrick Williams (13) and J.R. Smith (12) combined for 38 off the bench on 14-for-19 shooting.
“I thought the ball movement was great,” Lue said. “We played with pace because we were able to get stops.”
The Cavs (44-22), who led by as many as 38, shot .597 from the field (46-for-77), including .633 on 3-pointers (19-for-30). Cleveland has 878 3-pointers with 16 games to play. The franchise record is 880, set last season.
Things were going so well that Lue sent a ball boy up to ask general manager David Griffin if it was OK to use recently signed center Larry Sanders, who wasn’t supposed to see action. Lue got the OK, but only for two minutes, in which time Sanders missed his only shot and picked up two fouls.
“I wanted to start him, but Griff said I couldn’t,” Lue quipped of Sanders, who last played in an NBA game in December 2014.
The Pistons (33-34), meanwhile, were held to .374 shooting (37-for-99) and made just one 3-pointer in 16 attempts after starting the game 3-for-3.
“That’s something we had to clean up and get better at,” James said. “Guarding the 3-point line, we understand how much of a weapon that can be.”
The Cavs were close to perfect in taking a 57-31 lead early in the second quarter — yes, they had 57 points with 9:09 left in the first half — as they were shooting an incredible .885 from the field and were perfect on their first 10 3-point attempts.
Buoyed by a 15-point first quarter from Irving and nine points, four rebounds and four assists from James, Cleveland led by 18 after one and was perfect on seven 3-pointers in a 44-point quarter.
The Cavs’ highest-scoring quarter of the season was 46 in the first period against Portland on Nov. 23, when currently injured power forward Kevin Love set an NBA record for points in the opening quarter with 34.
“We had the ball popping,” James said. “We had bodies moving. Guys had great rhythm, even with it being our third (game) in four nights.”
The Cavs shot .692 from the field (27-for-39) and were 11-for-14 from deep over the opening two quarters, while James nearly had a triple-double at that stage with 12 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 16 minutes.
The four-time league MVP wasn’t the only star. Irving had 17 points at intermission, Shumpert had 13 on 6-for-7 shooting and Smith had nine off the bench.
“It’s up to my guys to make shots,” James said. “I just try to put (the ball) on time, on target.”
Almost overlooked was the Cavs’ first-half defense, as Detroit had quarter scoring totals of 26 and 22 points while going 17-for-52 from the field (.327).
After making all three of their 3-point attempts in the first quarter — the teams combined to go 10-for-10 in the period — the Pistons went 0-for-6 from deep in the second quarter and 1-for-10 in the second half.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve really come out and put a team away in the third quarter,” Lue said. “It feels great. For a team that just beat us (last week) in Detroit ... to have a defensive presence to start the game was great.”