Way too much Anthony Davis in 59-point, 20-rebound outing as Pistons drop 5th straight

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis recorded the first 50-point game by an NBA player at The Palace with 59 points and 20 rebounds as the Pistons lost their fifth straight game
B. Sevald/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Before uncertainty was cast on the trade that would add Donatas Motiejunas to the Pistons, Stan Van Gundy thought he’d have a buffet table of options to throw at Anthony Davis.

Maybe if they’d all been able to play and guard Davis at the same time, the Pistons would have had a fighting chance. Van Gundy blamed himself – “terrible coaching,” he called it – after Davis dropped 59 points on the Pistons. It was an NBA season high and a Palace scoring record, smashing Davis’ previous career best by 16 points.

“You can sit here and say ‘be more physical with him,’ ” Tobias Harris said after his Palace debut. “But, really, tonight, he was kind of in a zone. It’s a team thing. All five guys. He didn’t score 59 points or whatever on one guy. He scored on pretty much everybody out there. So we’ve got to take it as a team.”

Motiejunas, a 7-footer called “an above-average defender” by Van Gundy last week when the Pistons swung a deal for him at the trade deadline, sure would have been one of them. Anthony Tolliver, who temporarily slides in as the starter until Tobias Harris gets up to speed, was another. Harris and Marcus Morris would be 3A and 3B.

But Motiejunas never made it out of the starting blocks. The Pistons asked and were granted a 24-hour extension – taking them until 6 p.m. Monday – to further evaluate the results of physical examinations of his problematic back injury. It’s possible he could be in uniform with the Pistons at Cleveland on Monday night – and also possible that by then he’d be on his way back to Houston and the three-team deal rescinded.

Tolliver lasted eight minutes in Sunday’s damaging 111-106 loss to the Pelicans, limping to the locker room with a right knee sprain. He was scheduled to take an MRI exam on Sunday night and not expected to travel with the team to Cleveland, where the Pistons face the onerous task of attempting to snap a season-high five-game losing streak against the East’s No. 1 team.

Davis scored eight points in the first quarter, then took off, scoring 18, 14 and 19 in the final three quarters. He added 20 rebounds. Davis did the bulk of his damage on mid-range jump shots, making 24 of his 34 attempts. He wound up spending most of the night being guarded by Morris, but Aron Baynes and Andre Drummond also took turns.

When Davis hit a 21-footer over Drummond’s outstretched arm with five minutes to play to put New Orleans ahead by five, Drummond – who had a pretty good night himself with 21 points and 14 boards – simply shook his head and held his arms up as if to say, what else could I do? He drained a triple on his next shot.

“There were a lot of tough shots made,” Baynes said. “It’s not like he was getting all easy layups or anything. He was getting offensive boards when we were missing rotations, but a lot of his he was hitting some tough shots. We do a pretty good job most nights of knowing our personnel. It’s just a matter of going out there and stepping up our intensity in the right way and getting into players.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got to come up with something. The guy can’t get 59. That’s on me. … I didn’t give us anything to limit Anthony Davis.”

The rest of New Orleans’ starting five combined for 19 points. Only one other Pelicans player scored more than six points, Jrue Holiday with 20 off the bench.

But the Pistons had too many struggling shooters to take advantage of the Pelicans being a one-man band. Marcus Morris, already ticketed to play more power forward after last week’s trade for Harris that sent Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando, shot 1 of 7 and scored only two points in 34 minutes.

“He’s struggling,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket right now. No excuse, though.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who shot 1 of 11 in his return from injury on Friday at Wasnington, shot 4 of 15. The Pistons were within four points with a little under a minute left when Caldwell-Pope forced a turnover and launched a transition triple to cut the deficit to one point but missed everything.

“It wasn’t a bad decision. He just missed the shot. He shot an air ball,” Van Gundy said. “He was wide open in transition. Not a bad decision at all. A good decision. Shoot the ball. He’s wide open.”

Reggie Jackson scored 19 of his 32 points in the second half to give the Pistons a fighting chance. They actually led by one with 10 minutes to play when Davis re-entered for New Orleans. He scored 19 points on 6 of 7 shooting with five rebounds to close it out for the Pelicans.

“You’ve got to give credit,” Harris said. “The man made pretty much every shot he put up.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 96-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers...

SLAM DUNK – The end of the Pistons’ longest losing streak of the season didn’t appear likely to happen at Cleveland. But on a night LeBron James appeared eerily human – he finished with 12 points on 5 of 18 shooting and committed six turnovers – the Pistons survived two long second-half scoring droughts to beat the Cavaliers. The Pistons came into the game on a five-game losing streak, while Cleveland had won five straight – including a 22-point win at Oklahoma City on Sunday that came without Kyrie Irving. The Pistons led by 18 points with 6:32 left before going eight straight possessions without a point as Cleveland pulled within six points. But Reggie Jackson’s tough runner built the lead back to eight and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s strip of James and layup made it a 10-point game with 1:26 to play. The Cavs opened the fourth quarter missing their first 10 shots as the Pistons went on an 11-0 run to take an 18-point lead. Tobias’ Harris tip-in with 4:56 left in the third quarter gave the Pistons a 75-58 lead. But they were 0 of 6 with three turnovers and two missed Andre Drummond free throws over their last 10 possessions of the quarter to allow the Cavs to creep back within seven points. Jackson finished with 23 points to lead six Pistons in double figures – and nobody beyond those six scored. Caldwell-Pope finished with 19, Drummond 16 and 15 rebounds and Harris and Marcus Morris 14 apiece. The Pistons scored 33 first-quarter points and led 56-49 at halftime with Caldwell-Pope (15) and Jackson combining for 29 points and the starters accounting for all but four points from Stanley Johnson.

FREE THROW – Van Gundy admitted disappointment with the decision the Pistons made, based on the evidence revealed via physical examinations of Donatas Motiejunas’ back, to rescind the trade that sent Joel Anthony and a protected No. 1 pick to Houston last week for Motiejunas and shooting guard Marcus Thornton. “It’s disappointing because we saw the possibilities,” Van Gundy said. The Pistons get their No. 1 pick back. Van Gundy said because the decision to rescind the trade came after the trade deadline passed, the Pistons could not renegotiate terms of the protections on the draft pick to more accurately reflect the level of risk they would have been accepting with Motiejunas’ physical condition. On Saturday, as Motiejunas was going through his exam with Pistons doctors from DMC, Van Gundy talked about upcoming games with New Orleans and Cleveland and mused how Motiejunas would be a viable option to match up against bigger power forwards like Anthony Davis and Kevin Love. He also envisioned Motiejunas as a part-time center, especially against opposing centers like Nic Vucevic and Kelly Olynyk who are comfortable playing away from the basket. But those plans only improved the Pistons if Motiejunas was healthy enough to fulfill their vision. “I would do it over again if it were out there,” Van Gundy said. “We did our due diligence. Just thought there was too much risk.”

3-POINTER – The loss of Anthony Tolliver, out two to four weeks with a grade one right knee sprain, coupled with the collapse of the trade that would have brought Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Pistons, dangerously thins the Pistons at power forward. Tobias Harris took Tolliver’s place in the starting lineup and will be considered the power forward, Stan Van Gundy said, in part because of Marcus Morris’ comfort level playing small forward. Stanley Johnson, who has split his time backing up Morris and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, becomes almost exclusively a small forward – though he suffered an apparent shoulder injury in the fourth quarter at Cleveland. And Darrun Hilliard takes backup minutes at shooting guard behind Caldwell-Pope. Van Gundy said he talked to Joel Anthony on Monday afternoon once the trade was rescinded and hopes to have him back in time for Wednesday’s game vs. Philadelphia. The addition of Anthony gives Van Gundy greater latitude to use Aron Baynes for spot minutes at power forward, as well. The result of calling off the trade also leaves the Pistons with an open roster spot that Van Gundy said could be utilized to address the situation at power forward.

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