Down 10 in the first half, Maxiell prevented an Anderson Varejao layup by taking a charge, sparking the Pistons on a 13-6 run to close within three at halftime. Down eight after a 10-0 Cleveland run early in the third quarter, Maxiell muscled his way for an offensive rebound and follow that stopped Cavs momentum and sparked the Pistons on a 19-6 run.
On a night the Pistons struggled with collective energy, Maxiell kept giving them reasons to believe they could still win the game. And so they did, a 104-97 win in their 22nd game, more than anyone else in the league.
“It’s things like that that I bring to the game every night,” Maxiell said. “I’m not going to be a high scorer, but I try to be a great defender.”
Lawrence Frank tried pushing buttons as the Pistons sputtered, allowing Cleveland to dominate the backboards by a 2-1 margin in the first half. Before going out to start the third quarter, he pulled Maxiell aside.
“I said we need some of those momentum-changing plays,” Frank said. “I really didn’t like our energy and we needed some spark. As long as our hearts would keep on beating, we felt we’d give ourselves a chance and Max was again good for that.”
“Max puts himself in good position,” Tayshaun Prince said. “I always tell him, especially when I’m back down there with him, ‘You can leave (to stop penetration) as early as you want, because I’ll have your back.’ Those charges came at a perfect time for us. It kind of stopped their runs and it did help us out a lot.”
So credit Maxiell with giving the Pistons a chance at life on a night they appeared nearly lifeness, but credit Brandon Knight with pretty much everything from that point.
Knight scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Pistons closed on a 22-8 run to take a four-point lead to the fourth quarter, then hit the Cavs with nine more points in the first five minutes of the quarter before finally heading to the bench for a brief rest as they stretched their lead to 14. When Cleveland answered with a 9-0 run, Knight drained a huge triple with 3:17 to play to restore order. He finished with a career-best 30 to go with seven boards and five assists on a night he wondered if he’d be able to play, still bothered by a deep thigh bruise suffered a week ago in Dallas.
“He was aggressive,” Prince said. “He was banged up. He didn’t even know if he was going to come out and play today. I guess he needs to play hurt all the time.”
Knight’s offensive outburst roughly coincided with Frank’s call for Andre Drummond and Rodney Stuckey off the bench a little earlier than usual, midway through the third quarter, with the Pistons trailing 64-58. That’s about when Cleveland’s domination of the backboards tapered off. The Pistons wound up outrebounding Cleveland 22-20 after halftime.
“In the third quarter,” Frank said, “I thought Rodney and Andre injected some good energy into our group.” Stuckey chipped in with 10 points and six assists, including a huge stop-and-pop jumper to ice the game with 18 seconds left, while Drummond put up nine points and three boards.
The Pistons beat a weakened Cavs team, missing backcourt starters and offensive leaders Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but coming off a tough loss to Chicago 24 hours earlier they weren’t about to apologize or hand one back.
“We’ve played a lot of games so far,” said Prince, who continued his undersung season with another solid line: 14 points and eight rebounds. “I think we’re leading the league in games played. Guys are feeling it. The good thing was, after how we lost the last game, it was good we played tonight and come out with a win. This is a huge win for us because we had a couple of heartbreakers.”