By: Will Burchfield
The Cavaliers saw prey in the Pistons before Monday night’s blowout began.
After they had put the finishing touches on their 116-88 win, a final score that belies the grisly reality, Kevin Love said the Pistons looked like a team that was playing its third game in four nights after a three-game road trip that concluded Sunday night in Minnesota.
“They played a tough game last night that went down to the wire, and they had to come back and play on their home floor against us. That’s not easy to do. We felt if we got out there and put our foot on the gas, we might have a chance to get a ‘W’ tonight,” said Love, who chipped in 19 points, including 15 in the first quarter.
In their first matchup with the Eastern Conference champs this season, the Pistons never had a shot. They were down 13 at the end of the first, 27 at halftime and 39 at the end of the third. Their tired legs grew more obvious as the deficit swelled.
LeBron James, who dumped in 16 points in the first quarter on six of eight shooting, put the weary Pistons in a sleeper hold early.
“They’ve been playing extremely good basketball. Coming off a great win last night in Minnesota, we knew that they were going to come out and try to give us their best shot, and we had to be ready for that. But we just had a lot of flurries tonight. We had a lot of flurries and we didn’t stop,” James said.
The Pistons, who entered the game with the second best record in the East at 11-5, had played Friday night in Milwaukee and Sunday night in Minnesota. They didn’t arrive home until early Monday morning.
The Cavs, meanwhile, had Saturday and Sunday off, and many of the team’s players had been in Detroit since Saturday, where they took in the Jay-Z concert at Little Caesars Arena.
The disparity in rest was evident early on, when the Pistons looked slow on defensive rotations, and it grew more glaring as the game wore on.
“That wasn’t even a mindset for me,” said James. “I just wanted to keep the pedal down. We haven’t had a win like this in a very long time. We come out sometimes in the third quarter with slow starts and teams get back into it, but today we just kept it going.”
“That was 48 minutes,” James added. “48 minutes of game-planning and execution right from the beginning.”
James hit his first five shots and cruised to an easy 18 points. Playing for the first time in a new arena clearly didn’t affect his stroke — or that of the Pistons, who shot a healthy 48.5 percent from behind the arc.
“Nah, nah it didn’t,” James said. “It was body movement, player movement, the ball was popping and I started the game very aggressive. Got an and-one to start the game and from that point on the defense just kind of backed up off me. I worked extremely hard on my outside shot as well, and I was able to knock them down.”
Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t use his team’s schedule as an excuse, taking the blame for not having his players prepared defensively, but it’s clear the Pistons were a tired bunch. They won’t play again until Friday night in Oklahoma City, a three-day reprieve that comes at a good time.
They’ll next see the Cavs for a home-and-home series at the end of January. It will mark the conclusion, yet again, of a stretch of three games in four nights.