'We didn't compete': Humdrum Pistons stumble to Cavaliers, drop fourth in last five
Detroit — In the aftermath of the Kobe Bryant tragedy, many around the nation found it difficult to return their focus to basketball games.
In their first game since Bryant’s death on Sunday, the Pistons played one of their most lackluster games of the season.
They led for 46 seconds in the first half and trailed the rest of the way, including a 25-point deficit in the second half, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-100, on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The Pistons (17-31) lost for the fourth time in the last five games and the struggling Cavaliers (13-34) snapped their seven-game skid. The Cavs also ended a five-game losing streak with a win over the Pistons on Jan. 9.
In a pregame ceremony, the Pistons honored Bryant by wearing special black “Motor City Edition” jerseys with Bryant’s name printed on the back, with the No. 8 or No. 24 on the front and back. Players also paid tribute to Bryant with special messages on their shoes, and many donned Bryant’s Nike-brand shoes.
That was the highlight of the night, as the basketball didn’t live up to Bryant’s level of execution.
“Tonight, we didn't compete … We didn’t play hard enough. That was from the first play of the game to the end of the game,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We talk about Kobe this and Kobe that. Believe me, rest his soul, he would be embarrassed with our non-compete level. That’s what was concerning for me.”
Reggie Jackson had 16 points, Andre Drummond 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Langston Galloway 11 points for the Pistons, who fell 3½ games behind the Brooklyn Nets — whom they face on Wednesday — for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons had a 9-0 run near the end of the first quarter, with a pair of baskets by Bruce Brown, for their biggest lead, 23-20, with 57.1 seconds left.
Kevin Love (20 points and seven rebounds) already had made an impression, with the first eight points of the game, including a pair of 3-pointers. Larry Nance Jr. hit a jumper Darius Garland added a floater at the buzzer to help the Cavs regain the lead.
Cleveland opened the second quarter with a putback by John Henson and a coast-to-coast score by Dante Exum, extending the run to 8-0 and pushing the lead to 28-23. Love re-entered the game and converted three more 3-pointers within 90 seconds, but the Pistons stayed close with a basket by Drummond and another by Mykhailiuk (13 points).
Collin Sexton (23 points and five assists) scored six of the first eight points for the Cavaliers in the third quarter and helped them to a 36-27 advantage in the period, including a 13-3 run, with seven points by Tristan Thompson (17 points and 13 rebounds) and the rout was on.
“It was like a lay-up like for them. That was not a high compete level,” Casey said. “Our best defenders were getting blown by with one dribble to the rim. That’s on us; that’s on the guys on the ball — and I looked over and there are no substitutes to put in for them.
“We took our medicine. Cleveland came in and played well and competed and spanked us on our home court.”
► Derrick Rose had a sore right knee and didn’t play. That forced the Pistons’ hand in starting Jackson at point guard and using Brown as the backup. Brown had played significant minutes in the first half of the season while Jackson was out and he had six assists against the Cavaliers, but Rose’s scoring punch clearly was missed.
► Love shot 6-of-8 on 3-pointers and set the tone early with his outside shooting. He’s been a matchup problem for the Pistons for years, but with each matchup, he seems to find a different way to be effective. He had good chemistry with the Cavs’ young point guards and was 7-of-11 from the field for an efficient 20 points.
► The Cavs got easy dribble-penetration to the interior and had 64 paint points. They have had good games from Thompson and other big men but Sexton was particularly effective, making 10 of his 19 field goals. That youth and quickness had posed problems for the Pistons this season, but it was glaring on Monday night.
► Maker took an elbow to the head and was bleeding in the first quarter. He went to the locker room and later returned to the game. Galloway also had an apparent hand injury, as he left the court and ran to the locker room. He also returned with his fingers taped, but ripped the tape off and continued playing.