The Detroit Pistons’ season is over. After losing Sunday night to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first playoff appearance since 2009 ended the same way the last one did: sweep.
Another great start, another loss.
The Palace of Auburn Hills was rocking as the No. 8 seed Detroit Pistons were playing in their first playoff home game since 2009. The crowd was into it from the start, cheering every basket and booing Cavs’ forward LeBron James every time he touched the ball. However, it was all for nought as Detroit lost Game 3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-91 Friday night. Detroit came out ready to play, as the lead changed four times in the first six minutes. Leading the way for the Pistons was point guard Reggie Jackson, who had seven points and three assists when the first quarter ended. Though the Pistons were outrebounded by the Cavs 10-6 in the first, which has been their crutch in this series, they were able to end the first period up 27-23.
The spotlight on this series has been the feuding (or lack thereof according to LeBron) between rookie Detroit forward Stanley Johnson and James. The second quarter showcased more on-court battles as both players were leading scorers for their teams in the period. Johnson, who has said he is in James’ head, scored nine points to top James’ seven. However, LeBron outdid the rookie again by grabbing six rebounds, and had a plus-minus of nine, compared to Johnson’s four.
With all that being said, the story for the Cavs was backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Delly, his moniker according to Cavs fans, scored or assisted on all nine of Cleveland’s points to start the period. Dellavedova finished with eight points in the second, and hit both of this three-point attempts. His strong, yet undervalued, play helped the Cavs go into the half up 54-53.
The third quarter showed Detroit putting more emphasis on its post play. Center Andre Drummond scored six points and pulled down five rebounds. Drummond also had the highest usage rate, which measures percentage of a team’s offensive possessions a player uses, for the Pistons at 31.9 percent. However, both Kevin Love and point guard Kyrie Irving took turns scoring for Cleveland and paced the Cavs with seven points apiece. They also combined for 44.1 percent of the Cavs’ usage rate and led Cleveland to its biggest lead going into the fourth, 79-73.
This series was not the highlight of Tobias Harris’ career, as he had averaged 9.3 points per game and was not making big plays for the Pistons. In the fourth quarter, this all changed. Harris went on a run, scoring six of the Pistons’ 10 points in the middle of the fourth, and he finished with 13 points for the game. Detroit continued to fight as Cleveland began to slowly grab control of the game. The defining moment for the Pistons was guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s dunk on James, which cut the Cavs’ lead to two.
Immediately after this, Cleveland guard J.R. Smith hit a three to make the game 95-90. Irving made another three to make it 98-90 with 43 seconds left, which was the dagger in the heart for the Pistons. Detroit never scored again, and Cleveland stole home court from the Pistons.
The final game of the series came down to the final seconds.
With 11 seconds remaining in Sunday’s Game 4 and the Pistons trailing by two, point guard Reggie Jackson brought the ball up the court, heavily guarded by Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving. Jackson attempted to shake Irving with a myriad of dribble moves, and was finally able to get free with three seconds left. Jackson pulled up for a three with a contesting Irving near him, missed, and ended the playoff hopes of the Detroit Pistons with a 100-98 loss.
This play caused an uproar from the entire Pistons’ bench towards the referees due to the tight defense by Irving who may have fouled Jackson on the final shot. No foul was called, however, and the Pistons will leave the 2015-16 season with a sour taste in their mouth. It did not help matters when Irving ran over to some Pistons fans waving his hand and saying, “Bye-bye, bye-bye.”
Leading to this play, Detroit played another hard-fought game. They opened the game on a 10-2 run, much to the excitement of the home crowd. Forward Tobias Harris answered those critical of his play, scoring 10 points in the first. On the other side, Cleveland had a more balanced attack, as four out of five starters scored five or more points. However, Detroit took a three-point lead going into the second.
The second quarter was the LeBron James show, as he scored 11 points on four-of-five shooting. James facilitated the offense, moving the ball and setting up other Cavalier players for open shots.
Detroit kept close due to power forward Marcus Morris’ outstanding play, scoring 12 points. For almost a two-minute stretch in the quarter, he scored seven straight points, attacking the basket to draw fouls, or pulling up for a jumper. This opened lanes for his teammates as Jackson was able to drive and find open holes. Detroit kept clawing at the lead, keeping it within a point or two every possession. Going into halftime it seemed a Game 4 win could be had by the home team.
All series long, Kyrie Irving had essentially been the Cavs’ main form of offense. Averaging 26.3 points per game, he had been the reason Cleveland was and remains ranked first in the league for offensive rating in the playoffs. The third quarter showed all this and more with Irving scoring 13 points for Cleveland, including three from long-range. He scored 10 straight points for a brief run, giving Cleveland its biggest lead at 11.
Detroit battled back with consecutive threes from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson. This helped fuel the Pistons’ comeback, and they went into the pivotal fourth quarter only down three.
Irving continued his strong play in the fourth while his Cavs tried their best to put the Pistons away. However, Stan Van Gundy’s squad would not back down. After an Irving miss with 1:40 remaining in the game, Jackson dove on the floor after a loose ball in front of his bench, much to the approval of his coach. It was clear how much this young team wanted the franchise’s first playoff victory since 2008.
As great as that is, Cleveland was not having it. After Detroit pulled within one point, Irving had the ball on the right wing with 42 seconds remaining. A few dribbles later, he pulled up from deep, making the shot and silencing The Palace of Auburn Hills. Jackson would get a dunk a few seconds later, and will most likely go to his grave saying there should have been a foul on the controversial last play.
Where Do The Pistons Go From Here?
The Pistons played extremely hard this series, much better than many experts had predicted. Going forward, the team will have a mid-range draft selection. Another young point guard to back up Jackson could benefit this team, as current backup Steve Blake is 36 years old. However, Van Gundy still is interested in grooming Spencer Dinwiddie into a backup, possibly giving more minutes to the 23-year-old next year.
The other direction the team will probably go is grabbing a big man, specifically a combo power forward and center. Morris is the starter for the future, but a younger, more versatile backup to both him and Drummond would always be a plus.