Pistons' bench outlasts Cavaliers' in season finale
Cleveland — It was a decision Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t want to make.
But with starting guard Reggie Jackson still ailing with an abdominal strain, Van Gundy elected to sit the rest of starting lineup — Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond — and strictly play his second unit in Wednesday’s regular-season finale.
The Pistons’ reserves caught fire from 3-point range in the first half before cooling off and prevailing in a 112-110, overtime win over the Cavaliers’ second unit at Quicken Loans Arena.
Jodie Meeks, who was playing for the first time since injuring his foot on Oct. 28 in the second game of the season, scored 20 for the Pistons (44-38) and gave Van Gundy something to think about when it comes to putting him in the rotation for the playoffs.
“It felt good. It’s kind of a lost season for me. These past two years have been tough, but just getting out there with my teammates was fun,” Meeks said. “Whenever my number is called, I try to be ready and tonight was a good opportunity for me to come out and show that I’m healthy, in shape and when playoffs come, be ready.”
Anthony Tolliver and Reggie Bullock each scored 15, Aron Baynes 14, Steve Blake 13 and Spencer Dinwiddie and Stanley Johnson each scored 12. Joel Anthony recorded a career-high eight blocks.
Prior to the game, Van Gundy said he wished he could’ve played his starters so that they could continue to develop rhythm. Instead, he was left with several takeaways after the bench unit squandered a fourth-quarter lead due to missed free throws and costly mistakes.
“We learned from some really bad plays in the end, giving up the 3 to (Jordan) McRae and the foul at the end, so that’s two good learning points of things we did wrong,” Van Gundy said. “Everyone out there got a least 24 minutes, so that was good.”
After the Pistons tied a franchise record with 11 3-pointers in the first half to take a 58-44 advantage into halftime, the Cavaliers (57-25) trimmed the lead to single digits with an 8-0 run on a Richard Jefferson 3-pointer and a jumper and 3-pointer by Channing Frye (14 points) to make it 65-60 at the 7:20 mark in the third.
The Pistons maintained a double-digit lead until the Cavaliers started chipping away, opening the fourth with a 9-3 run on a James Jones 3-pointer, two free throws from McRae (36 points) and a Sasha Kaun tip to cut it to 85-81 with 9:12 left.
The Pistons answered with four points from Dinwiddie and jumpers by Bullock and Meeks to make it 93-83 with 7:13 left, seemingly just enough breathing room.
But Pistons watched their lead slip away as the Cavaliers stormed back in the final minutes, cutting it to 101-100 with 40.5 seconds left behind back-to-back jumpers by McRae.
Dinwiddie split four free throws within a 10-second span to make it 103-100 with 25.7 seconds left. That left the door open for McRae, who buried a 3-pointer from the wing to knot it at 103 with 14 seconds remaining.
Dinwiddie’s final shot rolled off the rim as time expired, sending it to overtime.
The teams exchanged baskets in the extra session before two free throws from Meeks and a Dinwiddie jumper gave the Pistons a 111-107 edge with 1:32 left.
Timofey Mozgov hit a floater to make it 111-109 with 49 seconds remaining before McRae’s potential tying lay up rolled out with 28 seconds left.
Johnson split a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds left to give the Pistons a 112-109 advantage, leaving the Cavaliers hope to tie it again.
And McRae nearly did after drawing a foul on a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left, but missed the first two as the Pistons barely hung on.
“I wanted to win but I wasn’t going to bring those guys back in after sitting so long, Steve and Aron, to get it done,” Van Gundy said. “I wanted to win and it was good to get the win. We didn’t play well in the second half, we played really well in the first half. It’s always good to get a win.”
After the teams traded leads throughout much of the first quarter, Blake sparked a 13-8 run to give the Pistons a 29-24 advantage heading into the second.
Blake started the spurt by breaking a 16-16 tie with a 3-pointer. Then after back-to-back baskets by Mozgov and Frye, Blake hit a jumper, layup and another 3-pointer before Baynes hit a hook and Johnson added a driving layup to cap it.
The Pistons started to break it open in the second, rattling off an 18-6 run to take a 55-38 lead with 3:18 left in the half.
Bullock hit a jumper and 3-pointer and Anthony followed with a dunk to give the Pistons their first double-digit advantage, 44-34, at the 6:03 mark.
Then Tolliver connected on back-to-back 3-pointers and Meeks hit two free throws before ending the run with a 3-pointer. Meeks tacked on another 3-pointer with 45.7 seconds left as the Pistons coasted into halftime with a 14-point advantage.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue rested starters LeBron James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving ahead of this weekend’s first-round playoff matchup between the teams.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Baynes said. “We know it’s going to be a step up in level and we’re going to go out there and compete every possession. That’s what it’s about. We got to take every possession and make the most of it.”