The Detroit Pistons have shown some life and growth recently, despite missing several starters. But the ability to play scrappy does not equal the ability to close, and those flaws were on full display in a 102-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday at Little Caesars Arena.
Detroit held the lead for most of the game but missed free throws and the implosion of the team’s offense in the fourth quarter allowed the Cavs to come back and eventually take the lead for good in the final minutes.
The Pistons took an 88-86 lead with 7:19 left in the fourth on a clean Killian Hayes catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. The crowd went crazy and it felt like the Pistons might have just enough juice to steal a game from the Cavs, who had been plagued by poor decisions and worse shots for most the night.
But Detroit would score just six points the rest of the game. Hayes made a floater to cut the Pistons’ deficit to two points with 2:30 remaining and he made a layup with 14 seconds remaining after the game was decided. Hamidou Diallo and Saddiq Bey scored the other two points on four trips to the line. Those were two of the 12 misses Detroit had at the charity stripe, and that’s pretty much the ball game right there.
These must be the hardest games to coach for Dwane Casey. The Cavs, also a young team, can scuffle and struggle all night like they did against the Pistons, but then in crunch time players like Donovan Mitchell can dust off everything that happened before and lock in to close the game. Mitchell was 5-of-17 through three quarters but hit 4-of-6 shots in the final frame to finish with 32 points.
Casey does not have that luxury. There were several possessions during that ice-cold stretch of the fourth where Detroit would struggle to initiate anything, and their first actual look at the basket wouldn’t develop until the shot clock was under five seconds. The team stopped attacking and instead probed the Cavs’ locked-in defense, willing to settle for whatever Cleveland wanted to give them. Outside of Hayes, the team was 3-of-15 from the floor in the fourth quarter.
The Pistons were led by Marvin Bagley III with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but he did most of his damage in the first half. Hayes had another all-around strong game with 16 points and eight rebounds. Alec Burks added 17 points off the bench, and Bey saw some success attacking the basket for 15 points, but then he settled for fadeaway jumpers late, and he struggled along with the Pistons.
The Cavs also had a strong game from Evan Mobley, the team’s third-overall pick two years ago. He never took over the game, but made winning plays for all 40 of his minutes. He finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and shot 8-of-12 from the floor.
The Pistons next play Tuesday against the New York Knicks.