Auburn Hills — Tobias Harris knew he would have to be aggressive on the boards Sunday night at The Palace if the Pistons were to have any chance of extending their first-round Eastern Conference series with top-seed Cleveland.
Harris, a 6-foot-9 forward, has been a solid addition since being acquired from the Magic in February, and he had a strong performance in the 100-98 loss in Game 4.
Harris showed he would be a factor early, scoring 10 and grabbing six rebounds in the opening quarter to give the Pistons a 28-25 lead.
And, it was important that Harris was crashing the glass after the Cavaliers had a 12-5 rebounding advantage at the offensive end in a 101-91 Game 3 win at The Palace on Friday to take a 3-0 series lead.
“It was a big mindset coming into the game to keep them off the glass and really have everybody come in and help the bigs out because they have good offensive rebounders in Tristan (Thompson) and Kevin Love,” said Harris, who finished with 23 points (8-of-14 shooting) and a team-high 13 rebounds.
“It takes a collective effort to get everybody in there and board. They still did a good job in getting them (Cavaliers had 10-7 advantage on offensive rebounds), but we had a better emphasis on that.”
Harris scored inside off spin moves, made short jumpers and made a huge 3-pointer from the left corner with 4:26 left to pull the Pistons within 95-89 after they missed six straight long-range shots to open the final quarter.
Marcus Morris and Harris followed with short jumpers to cut the deficit to 97-93, then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a 3-pointer to pull within 97-96 with 1:08 left.
Kyrie Irving connected on a 3-pointer to open up a 100-96 cushion before Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson slammed home a dunk (100-98) with 32 seconds left.
Then, after Irving missed a three, Stanley Johnson grabbed the rebound and the Pistons had a chance to extend the series, but Jackson’s three from the top of the key bounced off the front of the rim as time expired on their season.
Did Harris feel Jackson’s shot had a chance?
“Of course, but obviously it didn’t and it’s tough,” Harris said. “We kept fighting in every single game. We fought hard. It’s a different feeling when you come into the locker room and know you gave your all out there on the floor, but still it doesn’t fight the feeling that it’s heartbreaking for us.
“There’s things to learn from this. In playoff basketball, every single play counts. Every possession we need and it’s little possessions from the first quarter, things in the second quarter and third quarter, they all add up to the end of the game. We played it to the wire and Reggie got a good look and it just didn’t fall.”
But then, Irving didn’t let the final seconds of the third quarter tick off. After Harris’ driving layup pulled the Pistons even at 78 with 3.3 seconds left, Irving made a 41-footer near halfcourt with two-tenths of a second left.
Ultimately, Irving’s shot was the difference, sending the Cavaliers home with the 4-0 sweep.
Still, the Pistons will return next season young and hungry with a solid frontcourt.
Morris, a 6-9 forward, was aggressive at the offensive end from the opening tip, making a 3-pointer less than a minute into the game, then another 11/2 minutes later to help the Pistons set the tempo with a 10-2 run to open the game.
Morris showed his complete arsenal in the second quarter, making a baseline jumper for a 31-29 lead, then another 3-pointer after getting the extra pass from Harris for a 37-36 cushion and a three-point play inside for a 40-39 lead.
Morris scored 18 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting — 3-of-3 on 3-pointers — to keep the Pistons within 53-52 at the intermission.
Morris finished with 24 points, playing 31 minutes, but foul trouble limited him in the second half to 14.