Cleveland — If only first halves counted, the Pistons might be a little closer in the series. Instead, they’re digging into a hole that will be difficult to get out of.
But success in the first 24 minutes doesn’t translate to wins, especially in the playoffs.
And especially against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Pistons gave up two big runs, which became their undoing, as the Cavs surged to a 107-90 victory at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference playoff series.
Cleveland leads, 2-0, as the series shifts to The Palace for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday.
“It was a rough one today. We started off strong; their team took it to another level in that second quarter going into the third,” said Andre Drummond, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. “We just couldn’t match their intensity. Our mindset right now is that we’ve just got to get ready for a game on Friday.”
Game 3 will be about more adjustments and the 3-point shooting will be another area of concern for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. The Cavs tied an NBA playoff record with 20 3-pointers, including seven by J.R. Smith, who had 21 points, keying alternate Big Three for Cleveland, as LeBron James added 27 points and Kyrie Irving 22.
The Pistons had a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but the Cavs chipped away. They also had a five-point lead heading into the second, but that didn’t last either.
“I don’t care if you’re left by yourself — 20-of-38 (on 3-pointers) is good shooting. So you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that,” Van Gundy said. “But I didn’t think our closeouts were good and I didn’t think our closeouts were good and I didn’t think we did a very good job identifying shooters in transition.
“So there’s no question that we could have done a better job, but they shot the ball very well.”
Reggie Jackson had 14 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tobias Harris each had 13 for the Pistons, who only made four 3-pointers, after hitting 15 in Game 1.
The Pistons stayed in it in the first half, trailing 55-53 at halftime but jetted out in the third quarter for seven points in the first 95 seconds, after Jackson scored on a coast-to-coast drive, Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer and Drummond converted a lefty hook, to make it 60-55.
But the Cavaliers answered behind Irving, who had a driving layup and a 3-pointer to tie it. After two free throws by Marcus Morris, Kevin Love (16 points) and James hit back-to-back 3-pointers, Irving followed with two free throws and Smith added a 3-pointer.
Drummond hit another lay-in but James surged, with a fadeaway jumper over Stanley Johnson and a 3-pointer, to make it 76-64 at the 3:26 mark, for a 17-point margin during the seven-minute stretch.
“We had stretches in the game, both in the second and the third quarters, where their runs took our minds for about three minutes at a time,” Van Gundy said, “where we just stopped doing what we were supposed to do — especially on the defensive end of the floor — and made a lot of mistakes.”
Johnson and Harris scored two straight baskets but the Cavs finished with another 6-0 run, capped by another 3-pointer from Smith, for an 82-68 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Pistons never got within single digits the rest of the way.
The start to the game looked a little more promising, as the Pistons jetted to a 17-7 lead in the first six minutes, as the starters — all five of who scored in double figures — scored. Drummond started with a hook and split a pair of free throws and Morris and Caldwell-Pope each had a 3-pointer.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue wasn’t concerned about the double-digit deficit, knowing that his team is capable of the big runs.
“It happened last game; we got down, called a timeout, came to the bench and no one had their head down. We were still confident,” Lue said. “I just knew we had to pick it up. In the first half, we had a lot of defensive breakdowns that weren’t normally us.”
But Irving got hot, with consecutive 3-pointers and a jumper, cutting it to 17-15. The Pistons got on a 9-2 spurt to stretch the lead to nine, but Smith hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
The Pistons finished with a 28-23 lead, but the Cavs started 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.
As they did in Game 1, the Cavs erased the lead quickly, as LeBron got on his first scoring tear of the series. He caught an alley-oop from Matthew Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson followed with a 3-pointer.
After Reggie Bullock’s reverse lay-in, James had four straight baskets, giving Cleveland a 36-30 lead.
The Pistons weren’t done, as Jackson scored their next three baskets, keying a 14-6 spurt. But they could only whittle the Cavs lead to two at halftime.