Cleveland — The boo birds were in full effect, as the fans voiced their displeasure with the home team's lethargic performance — and for once it was the Pistons on the positive end of a beating.
Yes, LeBron James and Kevin Love participated in the Pistons' surprising 103-80 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena, but James was apparently powerless to prevent a Pistons team playing with new life after releasing Josh Smith a week ago.
The Cavaliers' third All-Star, point guard Kyrie Irving, was out with a knee bruise and Brandon Jennings decided to take full advantage of overmatched backup Matthew Dellavedova, keying huge runs in the second and third quarters with a hot hand, on his way to 25 points, six assists and five rebounds in 30 minutes.
Jennings' hot hand made its way to Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Caron Butler, who feasted on a terrible Cavaliers defense as the Pistons shot 55 percent on 3-pointers, making a franchise-record 17 (of 31).
"I think it's everybody being so unselfish," Jennings said. "Everybody's making the extra pass, not just one guy out there making plays. When guys get in the post, they're passing it back out. Guys are getting open shots. We're being very unselfish."
It was a barrage of triples and good defense, as the Pistons played freely against a team that on paper was a favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Pistons held the Cavaliers to 38 percent shooting, and 33 percent after the first quarter.
"Cleveland only scored 16 points the first 16 minutes of the second half," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I hope somebody will latch onto that as one of the big reasons we got this done the way we did. I thought we defended very well."
But despite the good vibes and great numbers the Pistons put up, it was clear the Cavaliers weren't into Sunday's game, after jumping out early. James whipped passes to Tristan Thompson and Love for layups and calmly nailed jumpers that didn't require much work, as he treated Kyle Singler — a player who struggles against average offensive players — as if he didn't exist.
It was a key component in the Cavs' 12-0 run that made the game look easy, before Butler stepped on the floor and Jennings returned after D.J. Augustin was ineffective on both ends.
Then the beating commenced.
"It's like I said in the first half when we were coming back, we have nothing to lose, we might as well just go out and play," Jennings said. "Just hoop. If shots don't fall, they don't fall. But we can give max effort every night."
Butler seemed to slow James down just enough to disrupt his rhythm — a rhythm James never regained — and the Pistons heeded Jennings' words.
The Pistons went on a 73-31 run after the Cavaliers went up by 15 in the second quarter.
James' night was a mixed bag. He scored 17 on 5-for-19 shooting, with 10 rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers.
"He had a bad night," a diplomatic Van Gundy said. "Now, did we do a good job? I thought our guys didn't give him stuff easy and stuff like that. I was happy. You don't lock him down. He missed. Thank God."
Jennings controlled the game upon re-entering, doing things he should've had the latitude to do when Josh Smith was around — he controlled the game at his discretion, fed teammates for easy opportunities in transition and hit a couple "heat check" triples during the Pistons' 18-0 run that gave them a seven-point lead.
Andre Drummond was on his game, particularly on the defensive end, despite having his hands full with Thompson, an active, athletic big man. Drummond blocked five shots, including three on James, on his way to another double-double (16 points, 17 rebounds).
The Pistons nearly doubled up on the Cavaliers in the third, outscoring them 27-14, shutting down driving lanes and beating the Cavs into submission. It was the Pistons' best quarter all season against a quality team. They held the Cavs to 24 percent shooting.
The game was effectively over by the end of the quarter, and the Pistons kept pouring it on for increased emphasis.
For once, there's a little life in Van Gundy's Pistons — a team trying to remove itself from life support.