Auburn Hills — Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings insisted All-Star vacation wouldn’t begin until after Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the team certainly appeared to look ahead in the second half.
Despite leading for the entirety of the first three quarters, the Pistons fell to the Cavaliers, 93-89, at The Palace, ending a three-game winning streak and five-game winning streak at home.
The Cavaliers scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, including 14 from forward Tristan Thompson and 11 from point guard Kyrie Irving, while the Pistons had five turnovers in the final frame and shot just 33.3 percent in the second half.
The Pistons led for the first 46 minutes before Irving made two free throws to take a 82-81 lead with 2:06 left. After a Josh Smith dunk, Thompson scored on a put-back dunk.
“I’ve got to put that on my shoulders. That’s on me,” Pistons center Andre Drummond said of the play.
A few possessions later, Irving effectively sealed the game with a contested 3-pointer with 27.6 seconds left that gave the Cavaliers a four-point lead. The Pistons could not recover from that.
After a promising start under interim coach John Loyer, the Pistons fell to 1-1 in the wake of Maurice Cheeks’ firing Sunday.
Although the Pistons’ three-headed frontcourt dominated for much of the first three quarters, the team too often settled for outside shots that weren’t falling as they finished 4-of-23 from behind the arc.
Smith had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Drummond added 16 points and 17 rebounds. Greg Monroe finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists, but he missed five of his last seven field-goal attempts.
Meanwhile, the Pistons backcourt struggled shooting all night. Jennings (nine points and five assists) was 3-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-11 on 3-pointers, and Kyle Singler (12 points and seven rebounds) was 2-of-9.
“Brandon is a very capable 3-point shooter,” Loyer said. “We’ve got some guys we want to shoot it, and Brandon is one of them. I’ll take my chances with Brandon Jennings. He’ll make those the majority of the nights.”
It didn’t help that guard Rodney Stuckey (dizziness) left in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Irving had 23 points and three steals, and Thompson added 25 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers.
With the Charlotte Bobcats losing to the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday, the Pistons had a chance to enter the All-Star break with the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but they will have to wait until next week for another opportunity.
The Pistons started with significantly more energy and led 17-7 less than halfway through the first quarter, a lead they later extended to 13. They were also more aggressive inside, scoring 18 of 28 points in the paint in the opening quarter, taking advantage of the absence of Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao.
Loyer must have seen something he liked with Monroe’s matchup as the Pistons ran their offense through him to start the game. Monroe started 5-of-6 and finished the first half with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Smith was also efficient in the first half with 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks, and the Pistons led 51-40 at the break behind 46.3-percent shooting.
But the sloppiness that plagued the Pistons for much of the first half of the season reared its head to start the third quarter as Cleveland steadily trimmed the lead to seven entering the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers tied it at 78-78 with 5:01 left in game, the first tie since the opening tip. From there, Irving took over.
“They made some shots, but they just played well,” Singler said. “I think they stuck together as a team. They were down, they fought back, got a couple key offensive rebounds. That’s what we wanted to do, and they just did it a little bit better than us.”
While the players enjoy a few days off during the All-Star break, Loyer and the coaching staff won’t have the same luxury.
Since Cheeks was fired Sunday, Loyer said the coaching staff was working “on the fly” for the past two games. Loyer said the staff will convene over the break to plan for the next four of five games, though he’ll be cautious not to put too much on the players’ plates.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “You can’t give them too much. They want to see change, they want some additions, they want some new things, but then again you can’t get away from the things we’ve done well. And we’ve been playing pretty well.”
The Pistons can’t afford to have growing pains after the break as they start a home-and-home against the Bobcats, who are currently the No. 8 seed.
Coaching against the Cavaliers brought back some memories for Loyer. The interim coach grew up in Galion, Ohio -- about 100 miles from Cleveland -- and played and coached at Akron.
Loyer said he grew up watching the Cavaliers.
“When you get back to Cleveland, it kind of feels like home,” he said.
Stuckey goes out
Guard Rodney Stuckey (dizziness) left in the second half and did not return. He finished with four points and one rebound in 11 minutes.