Streak Snapper

Pistons let opportunity to carry momentum into break slip, lose to Cavs


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

WHITE HOT – Tristan Thompson finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds and his two put-back dunks on consecutive possessions in the final two minutes pushed Cleveland to a 93-89 win over the Pistons. The loss snapped winning streaks of three straight overall and five straight at The Palace and stemmed Detroit’s building momentum heading into the All-Star break. Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer with 27.4 seconds left as the shot clock expired to put Cleveland ahead by four points was a back-breaker. Cleveland took its first lead with 2:06 to play at 82-81 on two Irving free throws. The Pistons jumped on Cleveland early, scoring 20 points in the game’s first seven minutes and building a 13-point lead in the first quarter. But their offense bogged down late in the first quarter and never really got untracked again. The Pistons were hurt by their inability to make jump shots and exploit Cleveland’s strategy of packing the paint and risking open shots. Detroit was 4 of 23 from the 3-point line. Andre Drummond had 16 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons.

BLUE COLLAR – Josh Smith has had flashier games, but against a player who came into the league when he did and has had a similar career, Luol Deng, Smith won the head-to-head matchup. Smith finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists , while Deng – a pending free agent acquired from Chicago last month in a Bulls salary purge – missed all nine of his shots and finished with four points and seven rebounds.

RED FLAG – When the Pistons opened the third quarter shooting 1 of 11 and saw their 11-point halftime lead dwindling, they turned to Rodney Stuckey off the bench. When various injuries to his knee and shoulder haven’t dogged Stuckey this season, he’s consistently given them scoring punch and a different look. But he couldn’t get it going against Cleveland and it was revealed that he was again suffering from dizziness – the second time that’s happened in the past month – after he came to the bench after playing just two second-half minutes.

They’d won five straight at home. Three straight overall. They got up by 13 in the first quarter and their offense was on the same soaring trajectory as it had been in those last three wins, when the Pistons averaged 117 points. They’d weathered an offensive lull and absorbed what they assumed was Cleveland’s best punch, growing the lead back to 10 points after the Cavs had crept within one.

They led for the first 46 minutes and were that close to dancing into the All-Star break with a four-game winning streak and plenty to feel good about under the direction of newly installed head coach John Loyer.

And then … well …

“We were up seven going into the fourth quarter and we gave up 34 points,” Loyer shrugged. “I’d start there.”

If the Pistons are going to get to the playoffs – an objective that slipped a little further from their reach with Wednesday’s 93-89 loss, though Charlotte’s loss at Brooklyn means the Pistons remain just one-half game out of the last postseason berth – they’re going to have to win slugfests like this one as well as free-for-alls like they’d won against Brooklyn, Denver and San Antonio their last three times out.

They had 20 points after just seven minutes against the Cavs and 51 at halftime, but their shortcomings from the perimeter caught up to them. The big three of Andre Drummond (16 points, 17 rebounds), Josh Smith (18 points, 10 boards, four blocks, three assists) and Greg Monroe (16 points, nine rebounds, five assists) combined to shoot 21 of 41. Everybody else shot 12 of 42, padded by Will Bynum’s two virtually uncontested layups in the final six seconds with Cleveland looking to avoid fouls.

The Pistons, 30th in the NBA in 3-point shooting, shot 4 of 23 from the arc. There were a half-dozen times when the game seemed ready to rupture in their favor, but for the want of a 3-pointer. Throw in another half-dozen layups that rolled off the rim and you can put this one high on the list of frustrating losses despite a season that’s already had its quota of such defeats filled.

“You want to win this game,” said Kyle Singler, 0 of 4 from the arc. “You don’t want to leave on a four- or five-day break with a loss. We’re not going to kick ourselves in the butt, but it hurts losing to a team like Cleveland because this is a team we’re confident in beating. We know we can play with them, so it’s disappointing.”

“You lead for 46 minutes,” Loyer said, “you expect to win the game.”

"There’s a laundry list of four or five things that when something like this happens, you can probably pick one or two of those things and that’s the difference in the ball game."

- John Loyer on the game
Full game quotes
It wasn’t quite a full 46 minutes. Cleveland’s first lead came at 2:06 on two Kyrie Irving free throws. Smith answered 15 seconds later, pinning Earl Clark on the block and whirling around him to the baseline for a two-handed dunk.

The Pistons forced a contested 3-pointer from Earl Clark on Cleveland’s ensuing possession. He missed, but Tristan Thompson dunked home the rebound. When Smith missed in close on Detroit’s trip, Thompson again dunked a miss, this time off of Irving’s penetration, and the Cavs led by four with a minute to play.

“That stretch in the fourth quarter, I’ve got to be better down the stretch and make that final box out,” Drummond said. “That’s what really got them going, Tristan Thompson got that put-back and Kyrie hit that big three down the stretch, too. I’ve got to put that on my shoulders.That’s on me.”

The Irving triple was the dagger, extending Cleveland’s lead to four with 27 seconds left as the shot block buzzer sounded following two Singler free throws.

Thompson (25 points, 15 rebounds) had 14 points and seven boards in just 8:19 of the fourth quarter and Irving, held well in check to that point, had 11 points and four assists in 8:20 of the fourth.

“I’m kind of lost for solutions right now,” Singler said. “But we’ve got to figure something out. Our coaching staff will figure it out and as players we have to just lock in more. We’re just letting guys do what they want out there and as the game goes along, we have to learn and adapt to what they’re doing and just play harder.”

It didn’t help the Pistons any that Rodney Stuckey was stricken by dizziness for the second time recently and played only 12 minutes, only two after halftime. He finished with just four points on 1 of 5 shooting with three turnovers.

“We missed him,” Loyer said. “He’s a heck of a competitor and we missed not having him out there tonight.”

Stuckey would have been in the game during that fourth-quarter stretch when the lead went from 10 to two in the span of 78 seconds. It started when Drummond grabbed a C.J. Miles missed 3-pointer and fed Will Bynum in transition; Bynum lost the ball while trying to roll dribble at mid-court. Another turnover on the next possession by Bynum and then missed jump shots by Bynum and Smith were answered by two layups, a dunk and a short Irving jump shot.

And a game that looked like it would carry the Pistons into the All-Star break on a wave of momentum was suddenly in peril, soon to be lost.

“I told our guys, our energy was great; our focus, I thought, was great,” Loyer said. “But there’s about three or four key things in every game. A loose ball, a rebound, maybe not attacking when we’re in the bonus. You can probably pick one or two things and that’s the difference in the ballgame.”