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Pistons beat Cavaliers as LeBron sits out

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — At the end of the season, no one is likely to remember whether the Pistons played a full-strength Cavaliers squad or on minus a few of their stars in a late-December meeting. It just counts as a win or a loss.

The Pistons, mired in a five-game losing skid, just needed a victory, regardless of the situation or who was out of the game or on the bench in street clothes.

The Cavaliers’ decision to rest LeBron James for the second game of a back-to-back. Forget that.

What the Pistons fans will remember is a wire-to-wire, 106-90 victory over the defending champions Monday night at The Palace.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 106, Cavaliers 90

The win ended the Pistons’ losing skid and possibly signaled a turnaround to a gruesome December at home, where they won for just the second time in seven games this month.

“It’s always a relief when you’re breaking a losing streak so that part’s good, but now you have to gain some consistency and get it going the other way,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You hope it’s not a one-game thing and then we break it.

“We’ve actually played three games with better effort and energy — two where we’ve shot the ball better. You hope you’re building on something a little bit.”

Tobias Harris had 21 points off the bench, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 18 points and Andre Drummond 11 points, 17 rebounds and four assists for the Pistons (15-18), as all five starters scored in double figures.

The Cavaliers (23-7) had won five straight and were on the second game of a back-to-back. Kyrie Irving, who played 44 minutes and hit the go-ahead shot Sunday, finished with 18 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

The defense was improved for the Pistons, holding the Cavaliers to 38 percent, but offensively, it was a bit uneven, with hot shooting from 3-point range, but struggles from the free-throw line and in the paint.

“It was a weird day shooting because we were 35 percent (14-for-40) in the paint; we were 53 percent at the line and 57 percent from 3,” Van Gundy said. “Not everything was falling; the 3 was falling, which was good, but we really struggled around the basket, for whatever reason.”

The Pistons took advantage of James’ absence, jumping to a 50-44 lead at halftime, behind Caldwell-Pope and Drummond in the first 24 minutes.

The Pistons led, 65-61, with 5:13 left in the third quarter before Jon Leuer (13 points), hit a jumper and Harris added a baseline turnaround jumper. That started an 11-3 finish to the period, with a jumper by Harris and another by Ish Smith to make it 76-64 entering the fourth.

Harris opened with another 3-pointer and after a split of free throws by Kay Felder (Oakland University), Caldwell-Pope added a 3-pointer for a 17-point advantage. The Cavaliers later cut it to 86-75 with 7:53 left, but the Pistons answered with another run to put it away.

Marcus Morris (15 points) hit a jumper, Caldwell-Pope dropped another 3-pointer and Reggie Jackson followed with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 19. After a jumper by Felder, Morris increased the lead to 97-77 with 5:02 left with a 3-pointer.

Jordan McRae hit a 3-pointer and Iman Shumpert (11 points) made two free throws to cut it to 15, but Harris and Morris put the game away with back-to-back 3-pointers, for a 103-82 lead with 2:42 left.

The Pistons had another good start in the first quarter, as they did against the Warriors. They scored the first eight points of the game, off back-to-back 3-pointers by Leuer and Caldwell-Pope and a breakaway dunk by Leuer.

It was a step forward for the Pistons, but they’ll have to back it up and build momentum, starting with Wednesday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

“Any time you go through a stretch like that just fighting for a win, it can change a lot. Hopefully, we take this one and move forward and continue to build some consistency,” Harris said. “From the Golden State game to today’s game, we had good overall efforts in both of them and were able to come out with a victory. Now it’s about what we do tomorrow and going forward from there.”

Cleveland got 17 points and 14 rebounds from Kevin Love and after a drive by Irving, to cut the lead in half. Irving later trimmed it to 12-9 on a 3-pointer and Harris followed with a 3-pointer to keep the lead at six.

Felder, in his rookie season, finished with 11 points in James’ absence.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard