The Pistons have taken the Cavaliers’ body blows and now find themselves looking to avoid the knockout punch.
Teetering on the brink of elimination and facing a 3-0 series deficit, the Pistons are faced with the extremely difficult task of winning four straight games against the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
The Pistons have showed plenty of fight, but there are several areas they must improve on if they plan on snapping their 11-game playoff losing streak to the Cavaliers.
Here are five keys for a Pistons’ Game 4 win and beyond:
Limit the deep ball
The Cavaliers have plenty of shooters and have been letting it fly from 3-point range. Through the first three games, they are shooting 43 percent (44-for-102) from beyond the arc and tied an NBA playoff record with 20 made 3-pointers in Game 2. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said prior to Game 3 he wanted to cut down on Cleveland’s attempts, citing it as a reason the Cavaliers have had their way with his team. In Game 3, the Cavaliers used 3-pointers from J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving to pull away, turning a two-point lead into an eight-point cushion late in the fourth quarter.
Slow the Cavaliers’ Big 3
Simply put, the Cavaliers’ stars are playing like stars. Trying to contain just one of them is easier said than done considering Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said LeBron James, Kevin Love and Irving are clicking together at a level he's never seen. Van Gundy switched up the defensive scheme in Game 3 and doubled Love whenever he got the ball in the post in an attempt to take away one of the Cavaliers’ weapons. It didn’t pan out as the trio has combined to score 81, 65 and 66 points in the series so far.
Get some Harris carryover
After being acquired from the Magic in February, Tobias Harris provided a spark for the Pistons in the final 27 regular-season games. He averaged 16.6 points while shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 percent on 3-pointers. In the playoffs, though, Harris has struggled with James primarily guarding him, averaging 11.7 points and connecting on 41 percent on his shots (25 percent on 3-pointers). Harris seemed to disappear at times during Game 3 before he got rolling and established a rhythm in the fourth quarter with eight points, something the Pistons hope will carry over.
Control the boards
One of the Pistons’ strengths is their rebounding, but they have been outrebounded by the Cavaliers in two of the three games. In Games 1 and 3, the Cavaliers grabbed 40 and 46 rebounds, including 12 offensive boards in each. In Game 3, the Cavaliers made the Pistons pay with their extra possessions to the tune of 17 second-chance points. They also had four players (Tristan Thompson, Smith, Love, James) finish with more rebounds than Andre Drummond, who won the regular-season rebounding crown. The Pistons can ill afford to give the Cavaliers, who ranked No. 5 in the league in scoring, extra touches in the postseason where each and every possession is crucial.
It’s been a recurring issue in this series. The Pistons hang around with the Cavaliers through the first two quarters, only to have 5-minute stretches where things start to unravel. The Pistons had a chance to steal Game 1 in Cleveland but let the chance slip away as the Cavaliers went on a late run. In Game 2, the Pistons trailed by one at halftime before being outscored 27-15 in the third and never recovering. Then in Game 3, the Pistons faced a five-point deficit in the final 3:30 and only managed to score one point the rest of the game. In order for the Pistons to force a Game 5, it largely will come down to getting key stops and clutch baskets in crunch time.