Auburn Hills — Andre Drummond's bad luck wasn't the only factor in his bad night Tuesday, but one sequence seemed to show how fragile success in the NBA can be.
Arguably the league's best offensive rebounder and explosive finisher had an easy two points right in his sights.
He tipped the ball once, twice and a fourth time before the ball popped out, and the surging Cavaliers promptly headed back downcourt, knowing they were facing a disinterested Pistons defense.
It didn't take long before Kyrie Irving took his time on the wing to nail a 3-pointer, sucking the air out the Palace crowd, and symbolizing the night as a whole.
Can't get two.
Give up three.
The Cleveland Cavaliers exploited every Pistons mishap, winning their seventh straight, 103-95, at The Palace and exacting a little revenge on the Pistons for giving them a 23-point beatdown in Cleveland in late December.
At that time, the Pistons were enjoying their newfound chemistry and buoyed by Brandon Jennings' 3-point barrage.
But Tuesday, Jennings' left leg was in a sling as he lay in a hospital bed after Achilles surgery. Nobody replaced his competitive arrogance — at least none of the Pistons.
"We had enough out there on the court to win," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But if you take care of the ball and rebound you win. I thought we defended OK tonight."
Turning the ball over 18 times and giving up 12 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points negates any effort-based advantage the Pistons thought they had, considering their general lack of resistance forced the Cavs to turn the ball over nine times.
"That takes away your chance to win," Van Gundy said. "Those are fundamental things that we've got to do a better job of."
Irving and LeBron James had plenty of it, and the muscle to back up their swagger. James bowled his 260-pound frame into Drummond and Greg Monroe, and anyone else who dared get in his way, to score 32 points with seven assists and six rebounds, looking far more spry than the corpse who walked around the Cavaliers home floor a few weeks ago.
Cavs center Timofey Mozgov was an expensive pickup, costing the Cavaliers two first-round picks in a trade with Denver on Jan. 9, but he seemed to prove his weight in gold with his effect inside. His 7-foot-1 frame kept Drummond away from the offensive glass — and didn't allow drivers and cutters to come down the lane unmolested.
"In general, they screened a lot better than we did and gave those guys room to operate," Van Gundy said.
He only scored six points, but likely accounted for a dozen more, setting solid screens and freeing up Irving for some of his six 3-pointers, part of his 38-point, six-assist evening. The Pistons rolled behind Monroe (17 points, 12 rebounds) early, taking a 17-10 advantage while the Cavaliers tried to figure things out.
A 12-4 run after the game was tied at 35 gave the Cavaliers the space they needed. Without Jennings few Pistons could create their own shot — and if the offense did present an open opportunity, they squandered it by laying brick after brick.
Anthony Tolliver and D.J. Augustin (19 points, nine assists) hit three 3-pointers each, as Augustin hit a running, desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock running down and Augustin barely across halfcourt. The other shooters, Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler combined to hit two of 11.
"I thought tonight, all of Kyle's shots were really good. I thought Pope's 3s were wide open," Van Gundy said. "I thought they did a good job of challenging us at the rim. We didn't finish. I needed to create a few more good looks, but I also think we missed a lot of good looks."
Said Tolliver: "The effort is there, we're just making mistakes. We have to be more focused. We're playing harder. Just gotta play smarter."
Midway through the third quarter, only James and Irving had scored in double figures for the Cavaliers. For the night they only shot 42 percent, but the Pistons, whose margin for error has shrunk considerably, did everything possible to hurt theiur chances.
"They're really good on the boards," Tolliver said. "You gotta have good second third and forth efforts to beat this team every time."
Turning the ball over 18 times and giving up 13 offensive rebounds negates any effort-based advantage the Pistons thought they had, and they only forced nine Cavaliers turnovers.
They stayed close after trailing by 15, cutting the lead to seven with 1:38 before Drummond went up weak against Irving instead of bullying his way to the basket — resulting in the surging Cavs getting back downcourt, as Irving again planted himself on the wing for a triple.
Can't get two.
Give up three.
And the losing streak extends to three.