LeBron’s LCA debut goes nuclear early as Cavs put the hurt on Pistons
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DETROIT – They say the NBA is a game of runs. Not this one. This was a game of run. It was Cleveland’s. It started in the first minute and never really stopped.
“Unfortunately, for most teams in this league – the Warriors may not have one and some of those teams – but for the rest of us there’s going to be three, four, five games a year like this and tonight was one of ’em,” Stan Van Gundy said after the 116-88 loss in which the Cavs led by 13 after one, by 27 at halftime and by 39 after three quarters. “We didn’t play well at either end and they played terrifically.”
It started with LeBron James, who had many big nights at The Palace – his 48 points in Game 5 of the 2007 conference finals comes to mind – but seemed right at home at Little Caesars Arena, too. Before the game was eight minutes old, he’d scored 16 points and made 6 of 7 shots, including a perfect 3 of 3 from the 3-point arc.
“He definitely did set the tone,” Tobias Harris said. “Made some really tough, contested shots, threes, got himself going, got his team going and then they were able to just pretty much fuel off of that. It was one of those nights for us.”
The Pistons actually weathered the LeBron storm fairly well, trailing 27-22 when he went to the bench with two minutes left in the first quarter. But his teammates drafted off of his pace-setting burst and started raining 3-pointers from all around the arc and up and down the roster. Seven different Cavs made a triple in the first half, when they made 11 of 17.
“They made their threes early and what happens is you’re so worried about the threes that you start staying out on your man more and you’re not in the gaps,” Van Gundy said. “What happens now – and this happened several times in the first half – the ball’s driven into the paint, it sucks your whole defense in and the ball comes out. Now you can’t get back out.”
Stanley Johnson, who famously challenged James as a rookie in the 2015 playoffs and got a scolding from Van Gundy for his audacity, was locked on him to start the game and felt like the foul called on him 38 seconds after the opening tip influenced what came next.
“What really killed me was the first foul,” he said. “That takes my aggression away. I can’t really get into him and get one that I earned and then it’s like I really have to play off of him because (if) I come up on him, he’s so good to the basket. But that’s what great players do. They figure out the game plan and they find their way to attack it and that’s what he did all night.”
He was merely human thereafter, making just one more basket to finish with18 points on 7 of 14 shooting with two rebounds and eight assists. But five teammates also got to double figures as nine Cavs registered at least one triple.
Van Gundy thought – and Harris backed him up – that the Pistons eventually had their discipline affected by Cleveland’s sublime shooting.
“I do think we got a little bit shell shocked,” Van Gundy said. “We had some back screens we didn’t switch and we gave up layups. The shooter is setting the back screen and we don’t want to leave him. When you’re shooting the ball like that, it tends to break down your defensive principles and I think that definitely happened to us.”
“I think it kind of rattled us a little bit on the offensive end,” Harris said. “We didn’t move the ball like we normally know how to. They switched a lot of things, too, which kind of got us a little bit off track. When a team is making the shots that they made, we still have to play our type of basketball game.”
The loss came on the heels of Sunday’s remarkable fourth-quarter rally from 11 down to win at Minnesota but the Pistons, playing their third game in four nights against a Cavs team that had spent the past two nights off and waiting in Detroit for them, weren’t latching on to the excuse of a schedule disadvantage.
“We’ve been good on back to backs this year,” Van Gundy said. “We were three and oh coming in on back to backs. It was as simple as they played extremely well – shot extremely well and played extremely well – and we didn’t. And that’s what happens. They’re a really good team.”
“I thought we had pretty good pop to us from the get-go,” Harris said. “A lot of energy in the building. We lace up our shoes, they lace up their shoes exact same way. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
The loss comes in the middle of perhaps the most rugged stretch of the Pistons schedule – nine of 11 on the road, including six of the next seven.
“It’s one loss. Nothing much you can do about that,” Johnson said. “It’s over now. We’re a way better team. We’re not 40 points, 20 points worse than any team in the league. That’s a fact. So good job to them. They played a great game. We just continue on.”