'You can't let up': Pistons survive ugly 4th quarter and beat the Cavs
Detroit — Dwane Casey didn’t care what time of year it is. He didn’t care that his Pistons were facing a LeBron-less Cavaliers team that came into Little Caesars Arena Monday with a 2-12 record. He didn’t care that it had been four days since the Pistons had stolen a game from his former team up in Toronto.
He wanted his team to show him something — consistency, maturity.
“This game means a lot to us tonight, regardless,” he said after the shoot-around Monday morning. “How do we want to validate that win against the Raptors?”
The Pistons showed him validation in the form of a wire to wire 113-102 win over the Cavaliers. But, consistency and maturity? Not exactly.
"At times, we sat down and really played good defense," said Blake Griffin, who produced 21 points and 12 rebounds. "We moved the ball on offense, as well, but again, at times.
"We didn't put together a full 48 minutes, so we have to do better when it comes to that. You get a lead like that — 28, 30 points, whatever it was — you've got to finish it."
Despite a 30-point lead, the Pistons lost their composure in the fourth quarter, getting slapped with four technical fouls from the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Josh Tivan and Ray Acosta.
"I take the blame for that," Casey said. "We are going to get that corrected. It starts from Blake on down to (rookie) Khyri Thomas. It's understanding that you aren't going to fight city hall.
"You have to keep your composure. I did a bad job of setting the tone for that...You have to keep your composure. A 25-point lead in the fourth and we're getting technicals —that's on me."
The Cavaliers opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to shrink a 30-point Pistons lead to 14. Stanley Johnson, Jose Calderon and Reggie Jackson picked up technical fouls in the run — Andre Drummond got one later.
The Cavs, though, made just one of the four three throws.
"I always like us to stand up for ourselves," Griffin said. "But you are never going to beat the power of the whistle. I got three bad techs in the fourth quarter earlier in the season and I set a bad precedent.
"We can't have that, especially in the second half and fourth quarter."
Casey called timeout after Cavs' Jordan Clarkson converted a four-point play to make it 95-81 with 8:09 left in the game. He reinstated four starters. The Pistons responded with five straight points — a 3-pointer by Langston Galloway and a bucket by Drummond.
The Cavs never seriously threatened again.
"There were a lot of positives," Casey said. "It's just the way it ended. You should never have to put the starters back in in that situation. We haven't done anything in this league. If we want to build a championship mentality that this franchise has had over the years, when you get a team down like that, you can't let up."
It was the Pistons fourth win in five games.
Drummond produced 23 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Reggie Bullock scored 21, all in the first three quarters. Griffin's 12th rebound of the night was the 5,000th in his career.
"That's cool," he said. "If you play enough games, you will get enough rebounds."
The Pistons also got 24 points from the point guard position. Reggie Jackson scored 13 and Ish Smith 11.
With 13 3-pointers, the Pistons established a franchise record nailing at least 10 in six straight games. Bullock made 5-of-6 from deep.
All things considered, the four-day layoff was not much of a factor for the Pistons.
“You hate to have a layoff,” Casey said. “You love to practice, but you hate to break the rhythm within an NBA season. NBA bodies get in such a rhythm, and that’s what scares me – when you break that rhythm. We have to make our own energy.”
As it turned out, the Cavaliers, who play the poorest defense in the league, helped get things ignited. The Pistons built a 22-point lead in the first nine minutes of the game, scoring 18 of those in the paint. The Cavaliers struggled to stop dribble penetration and to defend the basket.
The Pistons shot 74 percent in the first quarter. The 38 points in the first was two short of their season-high for a quarter (40 against Atlanta).
"Ball movement was good and I thought our spacing was really good," said Casey, mentioning two points of emphasis during the three practice days. "We still had a lot of wide-open threes we didn't make (13-for-38). We did a better job getting into those positions.
"At some point, those shots will start to fall."
The Pistons then opened the second quarter with an 11-0, with Stanley Johnson scoring seven of those. The Cavs didn’t score their first point in the second quarter until Kyle Korver hit a 3-pointer with 6:58 left.
The Pistons were stymied briefly when the Cavs deployed a zone defense. Still, they never got closer than 14 points in the first half.
"We came out with a lot of energy," Galloway said. "Just our pace, our pace created energy for ourselves. We just got a little comfortable. We have to continue to put our foot on the gas and continue to push through those little slumps.
"We're learning and we're continuing to grow. Just take every game with a grain of salt and build off it. It's going to be key. We have to be able to knock off these teams that we know we have to get wins from."