Heat guard Dwyane Wade scored 30 points against the Pistons on Monday night. The Pistons lost the game, 102-96. (Hector Gabino / MCT)
Miami — The highlights were in full effect in the first 24 minutes of Monday’s bout against the Pistons and two-time champion Miami Heat.
It felt like a bout, considering each LeBron James alley-oop dunk or Dwyane Wade swooping layup was like a haymaker to an already vulnerable Pistons defense that ranks in the league’s bottom three.
But after a first half in which the Pistons gave up 67 points, they put forth perhaps their best defensive half of the season against the defending champions on their home floor — in a game Heat coach Erik Spoelstra demanded his team get serious about.
They held the Heat to 39 points on 39 percent shooting — a number that would have been far lower had the Pistons not given up 13 turnovers that turned into 20 points in the Pistons’ 102-96 loss, a game that was there for the taking.
“I thought our defense was pretty good for the most part, but when you turn the ball over, I don’t think you can overcome it,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said.
Although the Pistons aren’t in a position to claim moral victories, given their propensity to throw games away at an alarming rate, it’s something they hope to build on. Every team isn’t as sophisticated or as talented as the Heat offensively, but considering the Pistons’ effort and execution on defense has been inconsistent at best, they need the slightest bit of hope at this point.
“It’s no question it was a good defensive effort; we can build on effort,” Cheeks said. “The most thing that we’re doing is learning, fighting our way through certain things.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had his toughest matchup to date in his rookie season, guarding Heat guard Wade on Monday. Wade scored 30 for only the second time this season, probably his best game of the season.
Caldwell-Pope bit on an early pump fake from Wade, one that’s caught the most disciplined and experienced defenders around the league, and was removed by Cheeks before getting a feel for him.
The Pistons just happened to be the team Wade faced Monday, as he’s made more of an effort to round himself into shape and take more of a central role as the Heat go for their third straight championship.
Either way, it’s a learning experience for Caldwell-Pope. Tonight, he has another test in Magic guard Arron Afflalo, whose strength gives Caldwell-Pope problems.
“KCP started off guarding Wade; Wade’s been around a while,” Cheeks said. “(Wade) understands when a younger guy is guarding him.”
Rodney Stuckey entered and wound up making Wade work on the defensive end, and Cheeks has been reluctant to use Stuckey and Caldwell-Pope together in the backcourt.
Pistons forward Josh Smith said Caldwell-Pope’s experience and Andre Drummond picking up two quick fouls guarding Chris Bosh will help them in the long run.
Drummond played just 24 minutes after getting those fouls in the first two minutes, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“Just some good lessons to learn. Two Hall of Fame players in my eyes,” said Smith of Wade and Bosh. “Coming into the league, even I struggled against playing veteran guys. They had credibility in this league. They’ll do better next time.”