Auburn Hills — After another lackluster first-quarter performance, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was ready to light into his players. In less than six minutes, they coughed up a 20-2 run, punctuated by LeBron James’ power dunk.
The Cavaliers had a 15-point lead and looked to be running away with another lopsided win.
Before Van Gundy could get going, Marcus Morris stepped in as a surrogate.
Morris had an emotional tirade that energized the Pistons, who erased the deficit and bounced back in the fourth quarter, taking a thrilling 106-101 win over the defending-champion Cavaliers on Thursday night at The Palace.
“Marcus came to that huddle, 27-12, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I got this.’ ” Van Gundy said. “He really went after guys — challenging guys (saying) if they didn’t want to compete to just get back in the locker room.
“He really did a good job, and then we came back and got ourselves into the game, finished the second quarter really well and got the lead.”
Reggie Jackson led the charge, with 12 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. His floater with 55 seconds left put the Pistons ahead by five. The Cavs cut the lead to three with five seconds left, but Jackson put the game away with two free throws, giving the Pistons their second win over the Cavs in their three meetings this season.
It was a bounce-back game for the Pistons (32-33) who had lost the last six times in the second game of a back-to-back.
“It was a great win for us — just the way we battled back, the efforts we got from everybody, and the way we kept fighting the whole night,” said Tobias Harris, who had 15 points and nine rebounds. “We really just played a solid game, so it was very satisfying in the locker room.”
Andre Drummond had 20 points and 16 rebounds, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 15 points and Morris 12 points.
“It’s probably the happiest our locker room has been all year and it wasn’t just getting the win; it wasn’t just beating Cleveland — it was the way we did it,” Van Gundy said. “We really had to fight in the game and guys felt good about it. We get another change — we’ve had several — to get to .500 on Saturday.”
The Cavs (42-21) got a triple-double from LeBron James (29 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) and Kyrie Irving added 27 points. The pair combined for 18 of the 20 points during the early run, punctuated by James’ monster dunk — and he got a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
Caldwell-Pope made the ensuing free throws, starting a 14-2 response that got the Pistons back in the game. Ish Smith (12 points) had a coast-to-coast basket and added a banked-in 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer, closing the gap to 29-22.
The Pistons fell behind in the second, but closed with a 10-0 run to take a 55-52 lead at halftime.
In the third, the Pistons pulled ahead, 68-58, at the 7:05 mark, but went more than six minutes without a field goal and Channing Frye (15 points) hit three straight 3-pointers to push the Cavaliers back ahead, part of a 22-5 run to end to the quarter.
Rod Beard breaks down the Pistons' come-from-behind win over the Cavaliers. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
But Jackson looked like the fourth-quarter finisher he was last season, playing the entire final period — and putting forth one of his best closing performances of the season.
Jackson started with a floater and after getting a steal, he found Reggie Bullock for an open 3-pointer. Drummond hit a lay-in to tie it at 80 and Jackson converted a putback of his own missed lay-up to give the Pistons the lead at the 9:37 mark.
On the next possession, he found Drummond for an alley-oop and Stanley Johnson added a pair of free throws, completing the 13-0 spurt, for a four-point advantage.
The Cavs pulled within 88-85 on a dunk by Tristan Thompson, but Jackson answered with a floater and a jumper on consecutive possessions, pushing the lead back to seven. After another Thompson dunk, Harris hit a floater and Johnson added a jumper.
The Cavs pulled within five, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to eight. Iman Shumpert hit a 3-pointer and James followed with a lay-in with 1:19 left.
That set the stage for Jackson’s big jumper to put the Pistons up by five and Harris split a pair of free throws. But Frye hit a banked 3-pointer to trim the lead to three with five seconds remaining.