Even amid a transition of eras, the Pistons made it a priority to field a competitive team. They’ve done it despite incorporating 11 new faces into a roster and doing it without benefit of a typical run-up to training camp. Only once before Wednesday’s 122-107 loss at Cleveland had they been beaten by more than 10 points.
But it’s hard to stay competitive – never mind win – when you start by ceding 22 possessions. That’s how many times the Pistons turned it over at Cleveland against a team that’s best in the NBA at forcing turnovers. And the Cavaliers thrive off of converting those turnovers into points. That’s how they scored nearly a quarter of their 122 – 30 of them – in their 15-point win.
“Definitely on us,” Jerami Grant said. “We turned the ball over way too much. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
Many of the turnovers were the result of trying to squeeze passes into tight windows or dribbling into the paint against multiple defenders.
“The simple A-B-C pass. That’s the name of the game,” Dwane Casey said. “They’re one of the best paint-point teams in the league. We continued to try to go too deep, trying to squeeze passes in when the (right) passes were the kickouts. We talked about it in the scouting report. We talked about it before the game.”
For all of that, the Pistons led by two at halftime despite 12 turnovers, largely because the Cavaliers matched them with a dozen of their own. And because two of their players, Grant and Wayne Ellington, continued writing franchise history.
To show you how things have been going for Ellington, his 4 of 8 shooting from the 3-point arc actually lowered his January accuracy from long distance. He came in tied with Joe Dumars for the best 3-point shooting month in franchise history at 54.3 percent. The four triples gave him a streak of five straight games with at least that many made, breaking the record he shared with Dumars, who did it late in his final season, 1999. Ellington’s 17 points gave him six straight games of scoring 15 or more, the longest of his 12-year career.
Grant finished with 26 points, going a perfect 10 of 10 at the foul line and also making both of his 3-point attempts. That gave Grant a franchise-record 17 straight games of at least two made triples, breaking the record he shared with Jerry Stackhouse.
But Grant was more peeved about his contribution to the turnover column, three.
“I don’t think they were forced. I think it was more on us,” Grant said. “We were trying to do a little bit much with the ball. I had quite a few turnovers, too. Probably thinking too much, doing too much.”
Derrick Rose, who missed the previous two games with left knee soreness, returned and helped the Pistons stay close in the third quarter when three turnovers on the first four possessions allowed Cleveland to open the second half on a 10-2 run that overcame the last Pistons lead of the game. Rose finished with 13 points in 19 minutes, committing two turnovers.
“Of course,” Rose said when asked if the Pistons were to blame for playing into Cleveland’s hands. “Especially when you’re playing against a young team like that. They have two dynamic point guards. They love to get in the open court. And their shooters, we allowed them to get off.”
Those two dynamic point guards, recent lottery picks Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, combined for 43 points, 29 of them Sexton’s. They made all three of their combined 3-point attempts – Cleveland hit 11 of 21 – but did most of their damage in transition or off the dribble and at the rim.
The Pistons played without Blake Griffin, who sat out the first night of a back to back that concludes with the Lakers visiting Little Caesars Arena on Thursday when Casey hopes the Pistons re-create their offensive wizardry that saw them beat Philadelphia 119-104 on Monday.
“I thought against Philadelphia we played as beautiful a basketball as you can play,” Casey said. “And tonight we played like we never worked with each other.”