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Van Gundy emerges from loss wishing for a few do-overs

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stanley Johnson reacts after scoring in the first half Sunday.

Cleveland — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy thought he let one get away.

It wasn’t the game itself, but just a couple of decisions that he could have done differently. 

The Pistons lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-101, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series, but Van Gundy was kicking himself.

The biggest was not playing rookie Stanley Johnson more.

Johnson was a game-changer, with nine points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes, but Van Gundy decided to stick with forward Tobias Harris, which turned out to be a regret.

“I thought about it and Stanley was playing really well but I didn’t make the move,” Van Gundy said. “I thought about it several times and just decided to go with our main five games who have finished games very well the last third of the year.

“My assistants and I talked about it several times.”

Harris had nine points and 10 rebounds, but Johnson led a solid bench effort — accounting for 21 points, on 7-of-8 shooting, led by Johnson, who hit all three of his 3-point attempts.

Since suffering a shoulder injury, Johnson had been struggling, but he broke out in a big way for the Pistons, undaunted by the stage the Pistons were on in a playoff series against the No. 1 seed.

“Phenomenal. Honestly phenomenal…he’s a competitor,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “Stanley Johnson is a complete dog. He doesn’t fear (any) man.”

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Johnson had a solid defensive game as well, guarding LeBron James when called upon and not shrinking against the challenge.

Asked about whether Johnson’s fewer minutes were one of the regrets, Van Gundy admitted: “That would be a fair criticism.”

But Johnson didn’t fault Van Gundy; he understands that as a rookie, he just has to come in and play and follow the game plan, whether it has him playing a few minutes or more.

“I thought Stan did a good job with the game plan. Regardless of the fact they went small and it hurt us, down the stretch, offensive rebounds and turnovers hurt,” he said. “We have to handle our business before we can put the blame on him, because he can’t play a minute or score a point.”

Foul mood

Jackson got a technical foul after driving the lane and missing a lay-up, on which he thought he was fouled. The Pistons were trailing, 96-92, at the time and the technical free throw, converted by Kyrie Irving, pushed the lead to five.

It wasn’t a good time — not that there is a good time to get a technical foul and give up a free throws — but Jackson wanted to make a point.

“I wish I’d get the call. I wish they’d see me get slapped on the arm,” he said. “It felt to me blatantly obvious and I had to let them know.”

The point wasn't lost on Van Gundy, who gave the officials an earful for some calls he thought they missed. Van Gundy didn’t like that Jackson got the tech at all and saw that it helped turn the game.

“He knows the message. You cannot get a technical foul. I understand you’re frustrated and you think you got fouled — it doesn’t matter,” Van Gundy said. “We can’t give them away even in the first quarter; we don’t have the margin of error to get those.”

Hack advocate

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, asked before the game about his philosophy on intentionally fouling — Hack-a-Drummond, per se — indicated that he’s in favor of it, but mostly in ideal situations.

“Analytic-wise, it says it’s best to foul when you’re ahead, because one point or zero points doesn’t hurt you. When you foul when you’re behind, you can’t afford to give up any points,” he said. “I just like to lose it when they have a great flow offensively going and score four or five times in a row and it’s tough to stop the pick-and-roll.

“We try to use it to disrupt their rhythm and timing.”

Lue didn’t have many opportunities to try to put Drummond on the line in Game 1. Drummond split his only two free-throw attempts in the game and the Pistons were 12-of-16.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard