Road is Easy Street

Smith, Jennings show Cavs why Pistons targeted them in another road win


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons continued their road magic, winning for the seventh time in eight tries as they smashed Cleveland 115-92. Josh Smith scored 20 first-half points and finished with 25, while Brandon Jennings led a 31-16 close to the third quarter after the Cavaliers had whittled an 18-point halftime deficit to 10. Jennings finished with 21 points and 13 assists and needed only 11 shots. The Pistons, now 8-6 on the road with their third straight win away from The Palace but 6-10 at home, held Cleveland to 39 percent shooting and placed seven players in double figures.

BLUE COLLAR – Andre Drummond racked up 21st double-double in the season’s first 30 games, the most such games among all Eastern Conference players. Drummond gave the Pistons 14 points and 11 rebounds. One game after a tough matchup with Dwight Howard in which Howard recorded 35 points and 19 rebounds, Drummond was the primary defender on Andrew Bynum, who shot 0 of 11 in 22 minutes.

RED FLAG – Nothing to see here. After having their psyche bruised by the Friday-Saturday home losses – including the traumatic fourth quarter that saw Charlotte outscore them 41-17 – the Pistons responded in a big way by beating a Cleveland team that had been playing its best basketball of the season. They came out of it in apparent good health and got good performances up and down the roster, including double-figures scoring off the bench from Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler and Gigi Datome, who carried over a strong performance in mop-up time on Saturday night to a shot at the rotation and scored a season-best 13 points.

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The Pistons swept the Cavs all four games last season. That was without Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. They took turns in the last game before Christmas demonstrating to Cleveland fans who might still be booing the hometown team exactly what Joe Dumars had in mind with his major off-season acquisitions.

Smith sparkled during the first half as the Pistons built an 18-point lead and Jennings took over from there with a dominant third quarter in a 115-92 win.

The Pistons continued to play efficiently on offense, shooting 48 percent with 27 assists and seven players in double figures, all signs of great ball movement and quality shot selection that really started with Smith scoring and dishing from the post or wing.

“We’re putting the ball in his hands a little more down there, taking him off that perimeter so much,” Maurice Cheeks said. “They ran two or three guys at him and it allows other guys to be open, so the more times we get the ball to him down there, he’s more comfortable, he’s got a nice shot down there and it opens the floor for other people.”

“Whenever we play unselfish, we’re a hard team to beat,” said Smith, who scored 20 of his 25 in the first half. “We have to be able to take reflection and look back at this game and see how beneficial it was to be able to move the ball from side to side and not settle.”

Offense aside, it was their ability to plug the defensive leaks that led to disconcerting weekend home losses to Charlotte and Houston that they’ll probably most remember about this division win. The Pistons held the Cavs to 39 percent shooting, outrebounded them 50-39 and scored 24 points off of 19 Cleveland turnovers. It was a 28-point game midway through the fourth quarter.

“We closed off the paint,” Cheeks said. “When they drove the basket, we got inside the paint. … Our transition defense was good, everything we did was pretty much on a string for whatever reason for 48 minutes and that allowed us to get some easy baskets. It allowed us to rebound the ball and get out in the open court.”

"To me I think, it might sound silly, but it’s the fact that we are shooting around at the arena."

- Brandon Jennings on the key to the road success
Full game quotes
A big part of their defensive success started with their ability to shut down Andrew Bynum, showing signs of becoming the highly effective scorer he was before knee injuries robbed him of all of 2012-13. Bynum didn’t make a shot in 11 attempts over 22 minutes, in contrast to the 35-point outing Dwight Howard turned in when Houston won at The Palace two nights earlier.

“We had a plan tonight,” Drummond said. “After what happened against Dwight and knowing that Andrew Bynum has the ability to do the same thing, we decided whenever he put the ball on the ground to double him. We made it tough for him tonight.”

When Cleveland showed its only signs of life, to start the third quarter – an 8-0 run cut Detroit’s lead to 10 and sparked a quick timeout and the swift insertion of Rodney Stuckey for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Jennings emerged. His third quarter was a thing of beauty as he scored 10 points to go with seven assists, a steal and just one turnover as he won the individual battle with Cleveland’s star young point guard, Kyrie Irving. Asked if he thought it might have been his best game as a Piston, Jennings – who finished with 21 points and 13 assists and took just 11 shots – didn’t argue.

“Yeah, just all around,” he said. “Tonight I was just picking points when to score and when not to score. Guys had it going, so I made sure guys got the ball tonight.”

Jennings has been criticized over his early career for becoming too focused on getting his own shots, but Cheeks continues to prod him to be more aggressive, if not necessarily to produce more scoring opportunities for himself.

“I kept telling him to be a little more aggressive with the ball,” Cheeks said. “When their big guys step up on the pick and roll, I wanted him to be a little more aggressive in terms of attacking the rim. I thought he played a nice floor game. He’s got to take a few more chances on the offensive end in terms of being aggressive because he’s a guy who can pass the ball. If he can pass the ball and he has the ability to make shots, he’s going to make big guys come up and he’ll run a better floor game.”

The Pistons got strong contributions off the bench, especially from Kyle Singler, Rodney Stuckey and Gigi Datome, who showed Cheeks something in the late going against Houston on Saturday.

Datome scored a season-best 13 points, but found other ways to help, too, making a few nice passes, grabbing four rebounds and picking up two steals. His shot hasn’t yet been as advertised, but if Datome can manage to help or hold his own in other areas, Cheeks can afford to give him rotation minutes and wait for that silky shot to find its level.

“He’s more than a shooter,” Cheeks said. “I think everyone thinks he’s just a guy who can spread the floor and make threes. I think he’s a little bit tougher than what we’ve been thinking. He’ll get better with more time out on the floor where he can defend guys, get used to playing NBA players. I think he’ll get better at it.”

It was the best evidence yet why the Pistons added the Italian league MVP. But it was the additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings that spoke loudest as the Pistons continued their road mastery.