Cleveland — The Pistons are like a box of chocolates.
On a game-to-game basis, fans — and coach Stan Van Gundy — never know what they’re going to get.
After giving up a historic 59 points and 20 rebounds to New Orleans forward Anthony Davis on Sunday night, the Pistons had lost five straight games and were sinking out of playoff contention.
That made Monday’s matchup against the Cavaliers, who had won five straight and have the top record in the East, that much more daunting.
The numbers and records didn’t seem to matter; the Pistons were in Bizarro World.
With a first-quarter flourish, the Pistons got the start they needed and pulled away in the fourth quarter, taking an eyebrow-raising 96-88 victory over the Cavaliers before a packed crowd at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Pistons held an opponent under 90 points for the first time since the Nets scored 89 on Jan. 9 — and LeBron James scored just 12 points, tied for his lowest total of the season.
It’s the Pistons’ second win over Cleveland this season; they also have a win over the world-champion Golden State Warriors. But they’ve balanced it with head-scratching losses to the Nets, Lakers and Sunday night to the Pelicans.
It’s the mystery and intrigue of a box of chocolates.
“We’re capable of beating anybody; we’ve beaten some really good teams — and we’re also capable of losing to anybody,” Van Gundy said. “That’s who we are and it’s a matter of what we bring to each game.”
On Monday, they got one of their better all-around performances, putting all five starters with double-figure scoring. Reggie Jackson led the way with 23 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shook out of his slump with 19 and Andre Drummond 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The Pistons (28-29) opened with 33 points in the first quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the game, when they played some of the best defense since their win over the Warriors on Jan. 16.
Jackson said the motivation to get going early was simple.
“Desperation. We were desperate and starting to get to a point where we know we can’t give up games,” said Jackson, who was 9-of-17 from the field. “It’s a tough stretch, with 25 more (games) after this. We have to be hungry for each and every win. We dropped the last five and we knew we were desperate.”
Midway through the second quarter, the Pistons led by six after a Morris jumper, but Timofey Mozgov hit a basket and Kyrie Irving (30 points) followed with back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Pistons tied it at 42 after another Morris jumper and Irving responded with a spinning jumper, but Caldwell-Pope and Drummond combined for 10 of the Pistons’ final 14 points of the period.
Drummond shook off his woes from the free-throw line, making 5 of 6 during the stretch. From there, the Pistons finished the half on a 14-5 spurt, including 8 of the final 10 points.
Stanley Johnson (10 points) hit a bank shot, Caldwell-Pope followed with a fadeaway jumper and Jackson added a reverse with 33.7 seconds left. Drummond’s final two free throws made it a 56-49 lead at halftime.
Cavs big man Kevin Love had 17 of his 24 points in the first half.
Johnson suffered a sprained shoulder and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
The Pistons started the third quarter with the first eight points, as Jackson had a nice hesitation move, Tobias Harris (14 points) followed with a drive and then added a reverse lay-in before Morris finished with a drive.
That pushed the lead to 64-49 and the Cavs made another push with under five minutes left.
Matthew Dellavedova hit a triple, Richard Jefferson added a jumper and J.R. Smith made a 3-pointer, cutting the Pistons’ lead to 75-66 with 2:23 left in the period.
James converted a drive with 39.8 seconds left to get the Cavs within 75-68 entering the fourth quarter, the closest they had been in the second half.
But the Pistons again toughed their way back, getting consecutive 3-pointers from Harris and Johnson, then Harris banked in a jumper Johnson followed with a three-point play, for an 86-68 advantage.
Caldwell-Pope added another jumper and the Cavs didn’t get their first field goal of the quarter until Irving’s layin at the 6:23 mark. Irving followed with another 3-pointer, making it 88-75 at the 5:11 mark.
That ignited a 12-0 run, slashing the Pistons’ 18-point lead down to six.
Mozgov had a dunk and James had a steal and open-court dunk. Irving split a pair of free throws and followed with a drive for an 88-82 deficit.
Jackson helped to put it away, with a tough jumper and Caldwell-Pope had a critical steal and layin off James to push the lead to 10 with 1:26 remaining.
“That’s the type of effort that you need from the team to stop a guy like him,” Morris said. “Today’s game is a prime example of how good we can be.”
From there, the Pistons held on the rest of the way, including two free throws in the final 30 seconds from Drummond, who finished the game 8-of-14 on free throws.