Auburn Hills – Pistons guard Reggie Jackson sat at the podium wearing a pained look on his face, his eyes staring toward the ground.
Roughly 30 minutes before his postgame interview, Jackson had a chance to shock the top-seeded Cavaliers and deliver the franchise its first playoff win since May 26, 2008.
His 3-point prayer at the buzzer wasn’t answered, signaling that time had run out on Pistons’ season with first-round sweep in Sunday night’s 100-98 Game 4 loss.
After battling the Cavaliers throughout the Eastern Conference best-of-seven series and pushing them to the limit three times, one could only wonder: Was it – simply – just not the Pistons’ time?
“It pisses you off,” Jackson said after pondering his response for 10 seconds. “To hear it’s not your time and not your moment … it kind of seems like it’s not made for you necessarily to win, so you have to find a way to run through the wall, find a way to get over the hump.”
The Pistons were never able to find what they were desperately looking for. In each playoff game, neither team led by more than five at halftime. And in Games 1, 3 and 4, the largest lead after three quarters was six points.
Then in the fourth quarters, Game 1 went down to the final two minutes, Game 3 to the final minute and Game 4 to the final possession.
It’s a sign, Jackson said, that the gap between the Pistons and Cavaliers isn’t wide.
“We had three close games that we lost and lost the fourth that I don’t think the score necessarily reflects how the game went. They made a great spurt in Game 2 to push it to a point where it was a double-digit game,” Jackson said. “We played hard, competed. We were confident and unfortunately we didn’t get a win this series and we’re not the team advancing, but I think it says something about us.
“We have to go ahead and learn from this, move on, use it as hunger, for fuel. Everybody has to take this into the back of their mind getting ready for workouts this summer and then getting ready to come back next season.”
Despite losing the series 4-0, the Cavaliers had to throw everything they had at the Pistons and needed a pair of back-breaking 3-pointers by Kyrie Irving in the final minute of Game 3 and 4 to pull out wins.
“It was a pretty competitive series for a sweep. Hopefully what they learn from it, what I said to them after the game, is the value of every possession,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You play meaningful games like the playoffs and in three out of four games you can point to four or five plays that if they go the other way … and I’m not talking about Kyrie hitting a half-court shot, J.R. Smith hitting a 35-footer with the shot clock running down. There is not much you can do about those. I’m talking about plays you could have made a difference on.
“When the games are this meaningful, you start to learn how important every possession is throughout a game and how hard you have to play and how hard you have to concentrate for 48 minutes.”
It’s something starters Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were learning on the fly, this postseason trip being the first of their young careers.
“We just know that we can compete in a playoff series,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Especially with playing the No. 1 seed in the East and we gave them a run for it. They really felt us throughout the entire series, there weren’t any blowouts or let ups.
“I mean just for this team to even make it to the playoffs … just us to get a taste of it, we kind of know what it feels like now.”
Caldwell-Pope’s words were echoed by his teammates, indicating the Pistons feel they’re merely scratching the surface of their potential.
“There’s a very bright future for everybody on this team,” Harris said. “I just think as we continue to grow, this summer is a good time to work on our game and come back ready and never forget this feeling that we have right now in this locker room.
“I think for all of us, getting that playoff experience and knowing what to bring every single night with the energy and focus, all the preparation it takes to win a playoff game and how close it becomes. That was key for us.”
While it’ll take time for the sting of heartbreaking losses to wear off, the Pistons never wavered -- even when their backs were against the wall. And that's no reason to hang their heads.
“I’m proud of the way we fought all series, proud of the way we played all season through ups and downs,” Jackson said. “There’s not another group of guys that I would want to be in the locker room with. This is a special group and that’s what hurts so much.”