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Beard: Pistons down but won't be pushed around

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stanley Johnson grabs a rebound in front of LeBron James on Wednesday night.

Cleveland — Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson wasn’t having it.

Marcus Morris wasn’t going for it, either.

Reggie Jackson talked about it before the series even started.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the playoff series, 2-0, but the Pistons aren’t going to be pushed around.

In their minds, the Pistons are standing up to the bully on the playground.

Reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009, the Pistons are the new kids on the block, as the No. 8 seed against the defending Eastern Conference champions. They were projected to be the sacrificial lambs and to just go away quietly, while LeBron James and the Cavs pushed their way toward another trip to the NBA Finals.

Not so fast.

While there didn’t seem to be much trash talk in Game 1 on Sunday, things amped up during Game 2, when James and Johnson bumped during a timeout. Johnson flinched but shot back during the postgame interview.

“It’s (fake) as hell. He was walking away and I was walking in a straight line,” Johnson said. “He didn’t bump me; I just didn’t move my direction, so we hit. I don’t know what you take from that.

“I don’t take anything from it — but a cheap ass shot, a cheap ass bump.”

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It harkens back to point guard Reggie Jackson’s comments when the Pistons found out last week they’d be facing the Cavs in the playoffs, where Jackson said David didn’t want to fight Goliath homeboy or his brother, but Goliath himself.

Goliath and his homeboys have two wins in the series and are halfway to dispatching the Pistons.

But they’re not going quietly.

In the NBA, even a decided underdog needs to show some fight and Johnson is doing just that, not backing down from James, the four-time league MVP.

Johnson, the 19-year-old rookie, was asked why he’s not afraid of challenging James and almost without blinking, shot back: “Why would I be?”

It’s the bravado of youth, but also attempting to stand up on an even playing field and not cowering and walking away with his tail between his legs — rookie or not.

Unmistakably, Johnson has a healthy respect for James, but just won’t get punked in the course of this series.

“He laces his shoes up the same way I lace my shoes up. He has to come out there and compete and make shots. Anybody and everybody can get busted any night,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player — I never took that away from him and never said anything about that. I said I’m going to compete every night and give my hardest effort every night and live with it.

“If he makes shots like he did tonight, there aren’t many people in the league who could match that. It is what it is — he had a great game and move on.”

James finished with 27 points and his Cavs are comfortably ahead in the series, but it hasn’t been easy, as James has played 40 minutes in each of the first two games, not getting much production from their bench and squeezing all they can out of their Big Three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — with J.R. Smith — in the process.

Things got more amped up in Game 2, with James woofing after a ferocious dunk and after the Cavs were comfortably ahead, he seemed to be trash talking to Marcus Morris, who didn’t want to participate in the back-and-forth with James.

“I know for a fact he wasn't talking to me — you can quote me on that,” Morris said.

It has all the makings of a rivalry for the next year or two, but the Pistons just aren’t in a position to hang with the Cavs — at least not yet.

But they’re not going to be bullied, either.