Report: Cavs might’ve fired J.B. Bickerstaff had they lost to Pistons earlier this season

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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

J.B. Bickerstaff is coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers in some extremely big games against the Boston Celtics right now, but he may have been coaching for his very job earlier this season against the historically bad Detroit Pistons.

“No Cavs official has ever come out and said Bickerstaff was being reviewed for a firing, but it was perhaps the hot chatter around the Association during the season’s first two months, among players, agents and rival executives,” wrote Joe Vardon. “A brutal home loss to lowly Portland on Nov. 30 was followed by a road game two nights later at Detroit, which was in the midst of a historic losing streak. Had the Cavs lost to the Pistons, multiple league sources say Bickerstaff may not have survived it. But Cleveland won that game and the two after it.”

Following that 103-95 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland won that next game at Detroit 110-101 on Dec. 2, which was the Pistons’ 17th straight loss on their way to a single-season record 28-game losing streak.

The Cavs had an 11-9 record after that win and hovered around the .500 mark until early January, when they started a monumental run of 18 victories in 20 games that firmly established them as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference.

With Bickerstaff still at the helm, the Cavs ended the regular season as the No. 4 seed in the conference, setting the stage for some bigger games indeed. They survived their first-round series against the Orlando Magic with a Game 7 victory and won Game 2 of their second-round matchup against the top-seeded Celtics to even that series heading into Game 3 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday night.

Following a 120-95 Game 1 loss to the Celtics, the Cavs responded with an impressive 118-94 road win at TD Garden on Thursday. A series victory would put the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2018, and the team might have to get that far in order for Bickerstaff to save his job.

Though there is still a long way to go, reaching the 2024 NBA Finals is not out of the question for the Cavs either. NBA insider Brian Windhorst has said that if Evan Mobley keeps up his play from Game 2, they have a real chance to win the title in the very near future.

Despite Donovan Mitchell’s long-term status in Cleveland remaining uncertain, the Cavs do have a solid core of Mobley, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Max Strus under contract for the next few seasons. After some noticeable improvement this season, having the continuity at head coach that Bickerstaff would provide now may be considered a positive as well.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. One of his favorite sports memories is the Cavaliers-Nets playoff series from 1993.