Cold in Cleveland

Billups returns, but Pistons run out of steam in 2nd-half loss to Cavs

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – Chauncey Billups returned to give their injury-depleted backcourt a lift and got it going after missing his first five shots, but the Pistons faltered in the second half, losing 96-84 after leading 49-46 at halftime. Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 16 points and eight rebounds. Billups played 17 minutes in the first half and 28 for the game, finishing with 10 points and four assists. Kyrie Irving scored 12 of his 15 points in the third quarter after scoring just three first-half points – on a buzzer-beating triple that ended a 9-0 Pistons run – when the Cavs outscored Detroit 24-18 to take the lead.

BLUE COLLAR – Jonas Jerebko’s shooting touch was a little out of kilter, but the level of activity he showed in the second half of a back to back earned him points in his quest to nail down a spot in the rotation. In six first-half minutes, Jerebko grabbed three rebounds and scored four points. Though he shot just 3 of 10, his movement off the ball was making him an inviting target for passes. His heady baseline cut resulted in two points when Andre Drummond found him for a layup. Jerebko finished with eight points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.

RED FLAG – Turnovers and transition defense, the latter a bugaboo in Wednesday night’s loss at Chicago, hurt the Pistons again, especially when the Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter. The Cavs had 17 fast-break points and 29 points off 22 Pistons turnovers, including 12 points off turnovers in the fourth quarter when they outscored the Pistons 26-17.

CLEVELAND – The Pistons were down 13-8 midway through Thursday’s first quarter. Two possessions later, they were up 14-13 on 3-point baskets from Josh Smith and Will Bynum. The passes that set them up were fairly unremarkable, elegant only in their simplicity.

They had one other thing in common. Both were delivered by Chauncey Billups.

“That’s just kind of my game,” Mr. Big Shot said after returning from a three-game absence as he sets his own pace in his 17th NBA preseason. “Even though I never played baseball, my motto is just to hit singles. Make the game easy. I’ve never been the home run type of player. But I believe that when I play that way, it’s contagious. You make the easy play as opposed to making the home run play. Hopefully, these guys will take heed of that and say let’s everybody play like that.”

The Pistons made too many tough plays look tortuous in their 96-84 loss to Cleveland, turning the ball over 22 times. The Cavs turned their miscues into 29 points, 12 in the fourth quarter when they outscored the Pistons 26-17. Billups was responsible for only two of the turnovers despite logging 28 minutes, 17 in the first half.

The pass to Bynum for his triple was vintage Billups. He took the ball on the right wing, dribbled toward the basket into what appeared to be nothing. But he kept his dribble alive as he drew the Cleveland defense into his trap, then fired a perfect pass to Bynum for the triple.

“Sometimes simple is all you need,” Greg Monroe said. “You can’t doubt what he’s going to do. He’s proven it at the highest level. When he’s on the court, everything has a point. There’s no wasted movement. You know where he’s trying to get and he knows the game and he knows what’s best for our team.”

“I liked Chauncey’s game,” Maurice Cheeks said. “When you’re a little older, the game kind of slows down for you and it slows down for all of us. He can pick his spots, when to get his shot, get to the rim. He gives us a nice little pace.”

He missed his first five shots, three of the sort of wide-open jump shot he’s made a career out of dropping, before making his next three, two of them triples, to finish with 10 points and four assists.

“Whooo,” he said. “I would love to have them again. I’ll get ’em. I will.”

Monroe led the Pistons with 16 points, while Josh Smith and Will Bynum had 12 each. Andre Drummond had eight points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Smith left his stamp on the first half, especially, with 10 points, four boards, and two assists, steals and blocks apiece.

Monroe and Smith missed several shots around the rim, the kind the offense is designed for them to get. In the preseason, that’s cause for encouragement.

“Over time, those plays will be beneficial for us,” Cheeks said. “Greg had a layup and missed it and the bottom fell out right after that. We had a lot of opportunities down low.”

“I don’t think that’s been a problem at all in preseason as far as getting the ball in the right position,” Monroe said. “But you’ve just got to convert those. There’s just no excuse. If you’re getting to the rim like that, you’ve got to score.”

In his role as observer the past three games, Billups began forming ideas for how the Pistons will function when they get healthy and gel and the frontcourt of Monroe, Drummond and Smith learns how to play off of each other.

“It’s going to be a learning experience for all of them,” he said. “We don’t have a conventional team. I don’t think Josh is a conventional three. I’m not really a two guard. We’re putting just basketball players on the floor, so it’s going to be an adjustment period for all of them to learn how to play with one another. But we’ll see how fast we can make it happen.”

As he reminded everyone on Thursday, it’s likely to happen faster with him as part of the mix.