Auburn Hills — The game was there for the taking.
After Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer with 3:30 remaining, the Pistons wilted down the stretch just like in Game 1, coming up empty on their next four possessions before Kyrie Irving sealed the 3-0 series deficit with a backbreaking 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining.
As has been the case every game this series, the Pistons hung tough in the first half only to fade away in the third and fourth quarters.
And once again, the Pistons’ defense had no answer for the Cavaliers’ “Big Three” of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who did much of the heavy lifting to the tune of 66 points.
Here are the Pistons’ grades for Game 3:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the starters with 18 points and 7-for-14 shooting, but couldn’t do much to cool off Irving (26 points, 11-for-20 shooting). Reggie Jackson finished with 13 points and 12 assists, and had just one turnover for the second straight game. But Jackson’s turnover with 1:07 remaining in the game couldn’t have come at a worse time. He did, however, do a better job of limiting J.R. Smith (nine points). Grade: B-
Marcus Morris got off to a strong start, scoring half of his 16 points in the first quarter, and continued to play physical defense on James, who had his worst shooting performance of the series (20 points, 8-for-24 shooting). Tobias Harris has struggled mightily on offense the first two games and was nonexistent for much of the first three quarters before coming to life with eight fourth-quarter points. Grade: B-
Andre Drummond performed well on the offensive end, finishing with 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting and seven rebounds, but did a poor job keeping Tristan Thompson (eight offensive rebounds) off the glass. Drummond went 1-for-6 from the free-throw line as his shooting woes demoted him to the bench down the stretch yet again, this time for the final 6:01 of the game. Grade: C-
Stanley Johnson led the reserve unit with nine points and 3-for-4 shooting, but only played for roughly 14 minutes. Aron Baynes and Anthony Tolliver each chipped in two points while Steve Blake didn’t do much of anything in his eight minutes on the court. All four played together to start the second quarter, only to give up a pair of 3-pointers to turn a three-point lead into a one-point deficit within a two-minute span. It didn’t help that Reggie Bullock was out with an inflamed nerve in his left leg. Grade: C-
Stan Van Gundy switched up the defensive plan on Love, choosing to double-team him in the post early in the game. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference as Love recorded a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. In the fourth quarter, Van Gundy elected to play Johnson, who was effective in the short amount of time he played, for only four minutes but made the right call to bench Drummond in the final six minutes. Grade: C