Patchwork Pistons clobber Cavaliers, halt skid at 8
Detroit — The Pistons were short-handed, waiting on their new additions in the Blake Griffin trade, while also playing without the three players who went to the Los Angeles Clippers in Monday’s blockbuster trade.
The patchwork Pistons squad didn’t look half-bad, either.
Actually, they were good for both halves. And the result was all good.
The Pistons’ double-digit lead evaporated in the last few minutes of the third quarter but Stanley Johnson led a late surge in the heading into the final period and the reserves keyed an energetic fourth-quarter effort, sparking the Pistons to a thrilling 125-114 victory over the Cavs before a national-television audience on Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The win emphatically snapped the eight-game losing streak for the Pistons (23-26), who are looking to have Griffin in uniform for Thursday’s home matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, after all the players in the trade complete their physicals and the deal gets final approval from the NBA.
“We needed that. I needed that; we all needed that,” a relieved coach Stan Van Gundy said in the postgame news conference.
The plug-in starters played their best games of the season, filling in for the top two leading scorers — Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley — who went to the Clippers in the trade.
Johnson had a career-high 26 points and tied his career best with 10 rebounds. Anthony Tolliver tied his season-high with 20 points and Andre Drummond again flirted with his first career triple-double, with 21 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists, along with three steals and three blocks.
“I told (Stanley) after the game that’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Van Gundy said. “Ten rebounds. He had four turnovers. He was very, very aggressive; I thought he was really good.
“Defensively, I thought he did a good job. You’re not going to stop LeBron but he did a good job.”
James managed just 21 points, with six rebounds and seven assists and Isaiah Thomas 19 points, with six turnovers. Kevin Love left with a broken hand in the first quarter but Channing Frye had 20 points off the bench.
In the decisive fourth quarter, the home crowd delighted in the anticipation of Griffin’s arrival, as well as the lopsided win, after the Cavs beat the Pistons by 17 points on Sunday in Cleveland.
“When Blake comes, we’ll be fine, but we’re trying to win this game. We went into Cleveland and almost beat them with the second unit,” Johnson said. “I thought if we cleaned some things up, we could give ourselves an opportunity to beat them. How we played in the whole 48 minutes — if we can play like that, the sky’s the limit.”
The Pistons led, 33-27, after the first quarter but James and Thomas each had eight points in the second quarter, helping the Cavs (29-20) move ahead, 63-59, at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Pistons had a 20-5 run, with nine points from Tolliver and five from Drummond. James ended the spurt with a 3-pointer and after a Drummond dunk, James responded with a thunderous dunk, and the Cavs trailed, 81-73.
They picked up the slack, though.
“We just played hard. We played a complete game,” Drummond said. “Defensively, we were great. Offensively, shots were falling for us. Overall, it was a very good game for us.”
The Pistons took an 89-84 lead into the fourth quarter, but Tolliver hit a 3-pointer and added a three-point play on the next possession. The Cavs got within five after a pair of free throws from Dwyane Wade (18 points) at the 10:02 mark.
Dwight Buycks (11 points) scored the next seven points, including a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to seven. The Cavs pulled within 103-101 after a 3-pointer by Kyle Korver, but the Pistons took off from there.
Drummond split a pair of free throws and Ish Smith had six points in a decisive 19-5 run — with a pair of 3-pointers from Reggie Bullock (season-high-tying 22 points) to pull away. Johnson also had a jumper and Drummond an emphatic dunk to punctuate the run, as the Pistons got it to 122-106 with 2:39 left.
Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ big win:
■ Love suffered a hand injury in the first quarter and went to the locker room to be examined. X-rays revealed a non-displaced fracture on his left hand. He’s projected to be out 6-8 weeks. He’s the second All-Star to be injured on Tuesday, with John Wall (knee surgery) slated to miss 6-8 weeks.
■ Johnson looked fit to move into the starting role when the roster is completed. He weaved in and out of traffic, hit mid-range jumpers and looked comfortable guiding the offense, on the way to his career night. He could become the starting small forward, adding to the frontcourt of Griffin and Drummond.
■ The backup minutes at point guard again went to Buycks over Langston Galloway. Galloway had started two games but didn’t play against the Cavs on Sunday and Galloway played just nine minutes, going 0-of-3 from the field on Tuesday.
■ With the shortened roster, Henry Ellenson got some quality time, getting some minutes in the first half, then playing some backup center in the fourth quarter, ahead of Eric Moreland. He didn’t get in the scoring column but had a pair of assists and had a minus-5 rating.
■ It was a Marquette University reunion, of sorts, with Wade, Ellenson, Buycks and Jae Crowder all playing in the game.