Auburn Hills — The Pistons’ season was hanging by a thread.
By the end of Game 4 on Sunday night, it was dangling on the fingertips of Reggie Jackson’s last-second shot.
After taking three straight losses on the chin, the Pistons needed a win to stay alive in the first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But Jackson’s potential winning 3-pointer grazed the rim as time expired, sending the Pistons home with an early postseason exit after a gut-wrenching, 100-98 loss at The Palace.
Marcus Morris scored 24 and Tobias Harris had 23 points and 13 rebounds for the Pistons, who lost their 12th straight playoff game to the Cavaliers, tying the league playoff record for losses to a single opponent.
Andre Drummond added 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Jackson had 13 points and 12 assists.
Much like Game 1-3, the first three quarters was a grind-it-out slugfest with each team exchanging blows. The Cavaliers took a one-point lead into halftime, a three-point advantage into the fourth quarter and were clinging to a two-point edge after Kyrie Irving (31 points) misfired on a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds left.
Jackson grabbed the rebound and raced upcourt — bringing the sellout crowd of 21,584 roaring to its feet — before his double-clutch 3-pointer missed the mark as time expired.
“We got a stop, had no timeouts and Kyrie decided to pick up early,” Jackson said of the final shot. “I tried to clear some space to take a good shot and tried to find a good look.”
After Irving hit a 3-pointer from 41 feet to put the Cavaliers up 81-78 after three, Matthew Dellavedova (11 points) scored five straight points in less than a minute to start the fourth on a jumper and 3-pointer to push it to 86-78.
The Pistons snapped right back, scoring seven straight on a Drummond layup and free throw, a Harris layup and a Jackson layup to make it 86-85 at the 8:33 mark.
Irving ended the run with two free throws to push the Cavaliers lead to three. Two possessions later, the Pistons had a chance to tie it three times after grabbing two offensive rebounds but missed all three 3-point attempts.
That led to a fast break for the Cavaliers that ended up with a tip-in by LeBron James (22 points) to push the Cavaliers lead to 90-85.
The Pistons cut it to 97-93 with 2:29 left on a Harris jumper and had the chance to make it a one-possession game after James missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
But Kevin Love (11 points) corralled the loose ball, giving the Cavaliers an extra possession to let precious time click off the clock.
After the Pistons forced a crucial turnover and called a timeout, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 97-96 with 1:07 left.
But the Pistons couldn’t come up with a second consecutive stop as Irving drilled a 3-pointer to push the Cavaliers lead to 100-96 with 42 seconds left.
Jackson kept the Pistons in it, losing his defender at the 3-point line and soaring in for a one-handed dunk to make it a one-possession game, 100-98, with 32.6 seconds remaining, but the Pistons could get no closer.
“It’s pretty much heartbreaking for us to be in this locker room and not to come out with a victory tonight,” Harris said. “We kept fighting every single game. It’s a different feeling when you come in the locker room knowing you gave it your all, but still it doesn’t fight the feeling of it being a heartbreaker for us.
“We played it to the wire and Reggie got a good look off at the end. Reggie’s didn’t fall and that’s kind of how it goes. It’s disappointing that we’re here and the season is over now.”
The Pistons fell into a lull to start the second half and the Cavaliers took advantage, rattling off 14-4 run to take a 67-56 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter. James and Love kicked it off with fadeaway jumpers before Irving finished it with 10 straight points on two 3-pointers, a jumper and a driving layup.
The Pistons fought back to erase the double-digit deficit, tying it at 74 with an 18-7 run with 1:08 remaining.
During the spurt, the Pistons scored eight uninterrupted points with a Jackson 3-pointer, Drummond tip-in and free throw, and two Harris free throws to cut the deficit to one before Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer tied it.
The teams traded points in the final minute before Irving’s half-court heave gave the Cavaliers a three-point advantage after three.
“I’ve been on the other side of being up 3-0 in a series and usually what happens when you are up 3-0 and make a run like they did in the third quarter, the team dies and goes away because they don’t really have the hope of winning the series and the whole thing and they let it go,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We talked about it for two days and our guys stayed in to fight. Stayed in to fight all the way to the end with a shot to win it at the end.”
The Pistons came out with a sense of desperation, storming to a 10-2 lead less than three minutes into the game behind two Morris 3-pointers and a hook and layup by Drummond.
The Cavaliers quelled the early momentum with a 7-0 run on two free throws and a layup from Love and a Smith corner 3-pointer to make it 12-10 at the 6:56 mark.
The Cavaliers managed to tie it twice at 17 and 23 but both times Harris had an answer for the Pistons, with a three-point play and 3-pointer.
Stanley Johnson hit a pull-up jumper with 8.6 seconds left to give the Pistons a 28-25 lead after one.
The Pistons hit a lull to start the second quarter as the Cavaliers used a 9-2 spurt to claim a 34-31 lead at the 8:30 mark. James started it with a fast-break layup and Richard Jefferson hit a contested floater. After Morris hit a jumper, Jefferson hit a 3-pointer and James added two free throws to cap it.
The Pistons reclaimed the lead with a string of three straight layups by Morris, Jackson and Drummond for a 52-49 edge with 1:20 left, but couldn’t maintain it as the Cavaliers closed out with an Irving jumper and James driving layup to take a 53-52 advantage into halftime.
“No matter what situation we’re placed in — backs against the wall, world tells us we can’t do it, likelihood it’s probably not going to happen — nobody wavered,” Jackson said. “Everybody sat there and put their feet in the ground. We took their best punches and we kept swinging back. The only thing that hurts is we didn’t get a win and we’re not the team advancing.”