Detroit — The Pistons, fresh off their longest road trip of the season, hosted their first game inside Little Caesars Arena in 12 days.
It was a quick turnaround for Detroit, which spent most of the last two weeks navigating pacific and mountain time zones, only to return home to host one of the best teams in the league on Sunday.
If the Pistons learned anything from their six-game west coast swing, it’s how to compete. That carried over to their home floor as they led for the majority of the night, until they ran out of gas in a 102-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Pistons (5-17) led by as many as 12 points and weathered each scoring run by the Cavaliers (13-7) in the first three quarters, but relinquished control of the game in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers finished the game on a 23-10 run.
Detroit trailed by four points with less than three minutes left in the game when Killian Hayes scored a running floater to bring Detroit within two. However, Donovan Mitchell, known for his big-shot making, countered with a 3-pointer to give the Cavs a comfortable 97-92 lead.
The Pistons couldn’t find enough offense to overcome the deficit and suffered their second consecutive loss.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey accepted blame for the team’s late-game collapse, but also credited the Cavaliers for increasing their intensity on the defensive end.
“A lot of these guys haven’t been in late-game situations. But that’s where the game turned, about halfway through the fourth quarter,” Casey said. “The Cavaliers turned up the energy and defense. They’re number three in the league in defense and we didn’t respond with the right force on the offensive end. I take the blame for that…We didn’t execute down the stretch. We have to get some practice time in with those in new positions. We’ll be better with that down the stretch next time out.”
Marvin Bagley III continued his stellar play from the last couple of games with a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds. Eight of his points were scored in the first quarter, as Bagley opened the period looking to attack since he had a speed advantage over Cavs center Robin Lopez.
The Pistons were without four of their starters — Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart and Bojan Bogdanovic — due to injury. However, the team is finding offensive consistency in Alec Burks, who finished with 17 points off the bench. It marked his sixth consecutive game of scoring in double-figures.
After missing the last four games, Saddiq Bey returned from an ankle injury. The third-year forward missed his first shot, a corner 3-pointer, but he didn’t let it deter him. A couple of plays later, Saddiq tested his ankle by displaying excellent footwork as he faked Evan Mobley out and drove baseline for an old-fashioned 3-point play.
Bey spent a lot of time putting the ball on the floor, especially when Cleveland cut off access to the 3-point line. He totaled 15 points and five rebounds.
“I thought (Bey) came back with a focus,” Casey said. “I was concerned about his game conditioning. But I thought he came in and gave us what he had. He was sharper the first part of the game and then as the game went on he was worn down a little bit, but it’s understandable with him being out with time away from games.”
Mitchell and Cavs guard Darius Garland did not play in the last meeting between the two teams, a 112-88 loss for the Pistons, but they were available on Sunday.
The All-Star duo struggled to find an offensive groove early on, but eventually found their footing by getting to the free-throw line.
Mitchell led the Cavs with 32 points on 9-of-23 from the field. After a slow start, Mitchell was the first Cavaliers player to emerge from the halftime break to get some early shooting in. He scored 17 of his 31 points in the second half.
Mobley, who totaled a season-high eight blocks in the last meeting, dominated the interior and finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Garland had a quiet scoring night with 16 points, but made up for it with his passing. He totaled 10 assists on Sunday.
The Pistons have played 22 games, a little over a fourth of the season, and will continue their four-game homestand on Tuesday against the New York Knicks.