The Pistons are overmatched.
Record-wise, Detroit is the worst team still playing. Cleveland is the best.
If there was any confusion before this series started, the Cavaliers’ 102-84 win today should clear all doubt.
But the Pistons had a brief glimmer of hope at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They opened the period with a 7-2 run to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to eight and force them to call timeout.
Then Cleveland put LeBron James back in.
With every Piston eyeing him right after the stoppage, he found Mo Williams in the corner for a 3-pointer. On the following possession, he drove in for an easy layup. Running back to play defense, he couldn’t hide a giant grin.
Ah, to be king.
That was the beginning of a 10-2 Cleveland run, making the final five minutes of the game garbage time.
A mix of common and uncommon deficiencies did Detroit in today. The worst part for the Pistons? It doesn’t look like any of them will improve.
Here are Detroit’s ranks in defensive efficiency the last six seasons: fourth, seventh, fifth, third, second and fourth.
This year, the Pistons are 16th.
Even in the two years they didn’t make the playoffs in the last 14 seasons, the Pistons had a higher ranking.
The Cavaliers have the league’s fourth-best offense, so it’s no surprise they scored with a lot. But this easily?
Cleveland had an offensive rating of 130.5. Detroit yielded a higher total just once during the regular season, a loss to Houston on Jan. 25.
The Cavaliers assisted on 65 percent of their field goals.
And the Cavaliers faced so little pressure, they had just four turnovers. The only time they had fewer during the regular season, they tied an NBA record with just three against Portland.
Cleveland’s offensive success started and ended with LeBron, who had 38 points on 20 shots, eight rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes.
Tayshaun Prince simply can’t bother James. Once an elite defender, Prince has fallen off. His defensive rating is the worst of his career and second-to-last on the team.
Obviously, mortals can’t stop James. But some can slow him.
Prince isn’t one of them.
The Pistons looked very comfortable at the beginning of the game.
On the negative side of that, they had no sense of urgency. But on the positive side, there were no nerves.
Detroit was calm in an intimidating road arena, and that helped them make their early jumpers. But with all jump-shooting teams, they didn’t fall forever.
The Pistons were shooting 55.6 percent at the end of the first quarter. That fell to 46.2 percent by the end of the game.
After Cleveland tightened up and the jumpers stopped falling, the Pistons had no ther options. They simply can’t score effectively inside.
Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess take fewer free throws per game than other team’s starting front court save Miami.
They shot a grand total of zero today.
And on top of his miserable defensive day, Prince shot just 2-of-7 for four points.
The Pistons are 22-17 when they outrebound their opponent and 17-29 when they don’t.
After beginning the season as a poor rebounding team, Detroit quietly improved. Antonio McDyess came back after Denver bought him out, and the Pistons went away from small ball.
In its final 55 games, Detroit rebounded 51.7 percent of misses. In the course of a season, that would rank the Pistons sixth. But that’s two spots behind Cleveland.
Before the Pistons won the rebounding battle 7-3 in garbage time, Cleveland had a 31-24 advantage on the glass.
Once again, Prince, third on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, should take much of the blame. He had just one rebound in 38 minutes.
McDyess, who leads Detroit with 9.8 rebounds per game, had just five in 31 minutes, too.
Rest of the series
Since moving to Detroit, the Pistons have been the lower seed in 16 . They have lost 13, soon to be 14, of those.
During the telecast, Jeff Van Gundy said he had never seen a team that didn’t high five each other during warmups — until Detroit today.
The Pistons as we know them are finished. Once a shining example of teamwork and chemistry, the Pistons don’t even seem like they like being around each other.
They’ll be out of their misery soon enough.