LeBron’s LCA debut goes nuclear early as Cavs put the hurt on Pistons

Avery Bradley scored nine quick points but the Pistons faded fast in losing their first game in four tries this season on the second night of a back to back.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 118-108 win over the the Boston Celtics at TD Garden...

1-ANOTHER BIG NOTCH – The Pistons are putting up a lot of signature wins before the NBA season hits the quarter pole. Chalk up a road win over the NBA’s hottest team, Boston, and put it up there with wins at Golden State and Oklahoma City and the seven comebacks from double-digits deficits. No surprise that this one went down the final minute. In an insanely good game between the teams that entered the night first and second in the Eastern Conference standings, of course it went down to the wire. That’s the way it should be and that’s the history of this series. Over the past 10 meetings at Boston Garden, the average score was Pistons 104, Celtics 103.9, reflected in the shooting percentages: Pistons 43.7, Celtics 43.4. And it was tied after three quarters at 86, tied at 100 with five minutes left. Another constant has been Andre Drummond’s dominance, which certainly continued apace. Over his past 15 games against the Celtics, Drummond – usually operating against smaller frontcourts – averaged 19.0 points and 16.2 rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent and recording double-doubles in all but one game. In 14 of those games, he’d recorded a double-double and he made it 15 of 16 on that score by halftime, finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Tobias Harris finished with 31points to lead the Pistons, hitting 5 of 6 3-point shots. The Pistons survived a 16 of 33 shooting night from the arc by Boston, including Marcus Smart’s 6 of 9 outing.

2-FAMILIAR FACES – Avery Bradley’s return to Boston started with a video tribute to him during Pistons pregame player introductions, ending with a “Thank You, Avery Bradley” message. Bradley was a big part of the Pistons early onslaught with six points and three assists in the first 10 minutes. He hit the game’s first basket and the pregame ovation turned to a smattering of boos. On the other side, the Pistons saw two old friends, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes. Bradley, who shadowed Kyrie Irving for pretty much every possession as Stan Van Gundy manipulated his substitution pattern to facilitate that matchup, finished with 13 points and five assists and helped hold Irving to 18 points and 6 of 16 shooting. Morris had 13 for Boston and made 3 of 5 triples. Baynes helped the Celtics get Andre Drummond somewhat under control when he came into the game, grabbing four rebounds in seven first-half minutes and finishing with six points and six boards..

3-OFFENSE HUMS – Boston came into the game with the league’s clear No. 1 ranked defense, but the Pistons got great shots most of the night in rolling to the highest-scoring game this season against the Celtics. Nobody had scored 60 points in a half against Boston this season. The Pistons did it in the first half, then came back with 58 more in the second. It helped that they played an immaculate game, turning the ball over just eight times. In rolling to 31 first-quarter points and a dominant performance from Andre Drummond. He had six points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the quarter, grabbing all but three of Boston’s 13 missed shots. The Pistons shot 52 percent over and hit 11 of 25 (44 percent) from the 3-point arc. Drummond hit 10 of 12 shots, Reggie Jackson (20 points, seven assists0 hit 7 of 10 and Tobias Harris got his 31 points on just 16 shots, making 11.

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