By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – The NBA All-Star Break will not be a vacation for Detroit Pistons interim coach John Loyer. If Monday’s game fueled optimism that the Pistons might actually live up to their potential, Wednesday’s game provided fodder for arguments against Detroit ever having success with its current roster.
The Pistons (22-30) led the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33) for 46 of 48 minutes. At halftime, Detroit had kept All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in check and had an 11-point lead. Throughout the game, the frontcourt super-trio of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe looked solid, accounting for 50 points and 36 rebounds.
The Pistons even shot 70 percent from the foul line. They had a sizable rebounding advantage (53 to 45), recorded more assists (21 to 17), and scored triple the fast-break points that the Cavs did (12 to 4).
None of those numbers mattered, however, because the Pistons collapsed in the fourth quarter. Again.
“I thought we came out with focus and energy in the first half,” forward Kyle Singler said. “In the second half, I wouldn’t say things fell apart, but Cleveland started playing better, making shots. I thought our defense in the first half was great. We were turning them over, forcing them to take tough shots. I would just say it was more on Cleveland’s part.”
That view is debatable, though, because hardly the first time the Pistons have surrendered a fourth-quarter lead.
Detroit led the Los Angeles Lakers 87-77 going into the fourth quarter Nov. 29 before eventually losing. The Pistons had a 84-73 lead over Portland entering the fourth before falling in overtime Dec. 15. A few days later, Detroit led 89-75 after the third quarter before collapsing against Charlotte. The Pistons led Washington 87-78 going into the fourth before finally falling Dec. 30. Wednesday’s fourth-quarter failure against Cleveland was just the latest misadventure.
The Pistons’ decline against the Cavs began in the third quarter as Detroit shot just 25 percent from the floor after shooting 46.3 percent from the floor in the first half. The Cavs outscored them 19-15 in that quarter.
In the final 12 minutes, the wheels came off. Irving and forward Tristan Thompson took control of the game. The significance of the Pistons’ overall rebounding advantage evaporated as the Cavs enjoyed timely second-chance points thanks to a lack of sufficient box-outs by the Pistons.
Drummond took responsibility in the locker room after the game.
“That final stretch of the fourth quarter, I’ve got to be better down the stretch of the fourth quarter, make that final box-out because that’s really what got them going,” Drummond said. “Tristan Thompson got that put-back, and Kyrie hit that big 3 down the stretch of the game, too, so I’ve got to put that on my shoulders. That’s on me.”
Cleveland scored 14 second-chance points in the game, converting on six of 12 such opportunities.
“I’m not going to take away our skill of going to block a shot, but weak side we’ve got to back and rebound the ball,” Loyer said. “They dominated the boards down the stretch, got too many second shots.”
The Pistons actually got more second-chance points in the game, but they made just seven of 17 put-back attempts. Detroit recorded a shooting percentage of 33.3 in the second half. Consistent with their ranking of 30th in the league, the Pistons again looked sorry from beyond the arc, making just 4 of 23 shots.
11 of those 3-point attempts came from point guard Brandon Jennings, who on Monday took just four 3s and ended the game with 21 points. Wednesday, Jennings finished with 9 points, making three of his 11 long-range shots.
“We don’t diagram many plays for 3s,” Loyer said. “We’re 30th in the league in 3-point shooting. The few guys, Brandon’s a very capable 3-point shooter. We’ve got some guys we want to shoot it, and Brandon’s one of them. I’ll take my chances with Brandon Jennings. He’ll make those majority of the nights.”
As far as what exactly went wrong for the Pistons in the fourth, players seemed unable to explain it other than crediting the Cavs.
“I’m kind of lost for solutions right now,” Singler said, “but we’ve got to figure something out, and I think our coaching staff will figure it out, and as players, I think we have to just lock in more. We’re just letting guys just kind of do what they want out there. As the game goes on, we just have to learn and adapt to what they’re doing and play harder.”
Loyer has more specific ideas, and he plans to explore them further during the break, while many players take the chance to get away from frigid and snowy Detroit and relax in some sunnier locale.
“I’m going to look at the whole picture,” Loyer said. “I’m going to look at certain combinations when we have them in the game, kind of break down our offense. I’m going to sit down, look at what we’re doing defensively. An area we need to improve on is our transition defense in spells. When we get back and low to the basketball and get all five guys inside the ball, we’re pretty good. When we either stab up the floor or don’t get the ball stopped – but there’s a lot of areas we’re going to take a look at. That’s what you do during a break.”