‘A lot of positives’ as Pistons build 30-point lead, cruise past Cavs
DETROIT – It was almost the exact opposite recipe of the last time the Pistons played, though you might have to strain your memory to recall it.
The Pistons hadn’t played in five days, outscoring Toronto 40-19 in the last 15 minutes to erase a 19-point deficit and score the first signature win of the Dwane Casey era as the Pistons gave him a happy return to the place he’d called home for the past seven seasons.
This time – hosting the 2-12 Cavaliers, making the Pistons an even more decisive favorite to win than the 12-2 Raptors were at home last week – it was the Pistons who were outscored 39-20 over the game’s last 16 minutes.
But they started with a 30-point cushion, so onward and upward. The 113-102 win wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the fourth win in their last five games gives the Pistons an 8-6 record heading into a home-and-home with Houston that sandwiches the Thanksgiving holiday.
“At times we sat down and really played well defensively,” Blake Griffin said. “And we moved the ball offensively well – at times, again. We didn’t put together a full 48 minutes, so we’ve got to be better when it comes to that. You get a lead like that, you’ve got to finish it.”
The Pistons hung 38 on Cleveland in the first quarter to take a double-digits lead that stretched to 20 by halftime and to 30 with four minutes left in the third quarter. The Cavs started chipping away at the lead when Casey had to use Jose Calderon at point guard due to foul trouble for both Reggie Jackson (four) and Ish Smith (five) at that point.
Though it never got uncomfortably close – Cleveland got no closer than 11, the final margin, and that didn’t come until two minutes remained – it did get contentious and ragged. The Pistons picked up four fourth-quarter technical fouls – one apiece for Stanley Johnson, Jose Calderon, Jackson (while he was on the bench) and Andre Drummond. The Pistons came into the game tied with Utah for the league lead even though they’d played the fewest games and Drummond, with seven technicals, will have to modify his responses to officials or risk suspensions once his total hits 18.
“That’s my fault. I take the blame for that,” Casey said. “We’re going to get that corrected and it starts with Blake on down to Khyri Thomas – understanding that you’re not going to fight city hall. I’ve done a bad job setting the tone for that. We’ve got to have our composure. We had a 25-point lead getting technicals. That’s on me. I take responsibility. We’ll get that corrected.”
The good news is that the Cavs only managed one made free throw on their four attempts, but the bad news is the Pistons – who lead the league in fouls committed per game at 24.6 and are fourth in free throws yielded per game at 26.5 – continued to give away too many points at the line. Their 27 fouls translated into 34 free throws for Cleveland.
“We’ve really got to control our tempers and try to batten down and finish out games strong rather than letting them come back a little bit toward the end,” Langston Galloway said. “We came out with a lot of energy, Our pace brought energy. Once we got up to a comfortable lead, we just got a little comfortable. We’ve got to continue to keep our foot on the gas and push through those little slumps.”
The Pistons stressed ball movement, spacing and limiting turnovers in their three consecutive practice days between games. They also spent time working against zone defense and saw an unusually heavy dose of that from the Cavaliers.
“Kind of the story of the game,” Griffin said. “I thought at times we did a good job attacking it, but you’ve got to be able to beat a zone even when you’re not hitting shots and I didn’t think we did a good job at times of getting inside the zone, the weak point, and working from there. But we’ll be better next time.”
Griffin put up 21 points, 12 rebounds – to give him 5,000 for his career – and five assists. Andre Drummond had 23 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks and Reggie Bullock hit 4 of 7 3-pointers to finish with 21 points. Griffin joined Casey in shouldering responsibility for the team’s accumulation of technical fouls and vowed to help change the pattern.
“I always like us standing up for ourselves, but you’re never going to beat the power of the whistle,” he said. “I said to coach Casey, ‘It starts with me.’ I got three bad technicals in the fourth quarter, late in games, early in the season and I think it set a bad precedent. Like he said, we can’t have that.”
But it’s a lesson absorbed during a win, the ultimate currency the NBA trades in. You wouldn’t think a team holding a 30-point lead would find much to be frustrated about, but at least the Pistons started with a wide margin for error.
“We had a lot of positives,” Casey said. “It wasn’t all negative. Just the way it ended. You should never have to put the starters back in in that situation.”