The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Detroit missing their best player, Kyrie Irving, and just 2-8 in their last 10 games. The Pistons, mostly at full strength (aside from a thigh bruise for Brandon Knight, which he played through), should’ve had no problems at home in this game and, for the most part, they didn’t.
Detroit built a big lead early, played mostly great defense, coasted for a while in the second half while Cleveland chipped away at the lead, then made enough plays down the stretch — including an incredible block by Knight on a dunk attempt by Jeremy Pargo — to hold Cleveland off. The Pistons are slowly but surely getting back to where they were at last season — better than most bad teams as long as they play with any modicum of defensive intensity, bad against most average or better teams unless virtually everything goes right for them. Considering where the team was to start the season just a few weeks ago, that’s solid enough progress.
The defense against Cleveland was great. The Pistons did a great job contesting shots, held the Cavs to 34 percent shooting (including 3-for-20 from 3-point range). They blocked 13 shots (including five by Jason Maxiell and three in 19 minutes by Andre Drummond). Most importantly, the Pistons took care of the ball, turning it over just 11 times. Knight and Greg Monroe, in particular, did a much better job after their recent sloppiness with just three turnovers each.
The Pistons have a favorable, home-heavy schedule this month with several games against struggling teams. If the team remains focused on those two things — defense and taking care of the ball — the outlook for Detroit’s season outlook could be drastically more positive by the end of December.
|Jason Maxiell, PF 28 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | +10Maxiell did his best Ben Wallace impression tonight. Who needs a rim-protecting presence in the starting lineup when you have Maxiell swatting everything?|
|Tayshaun Prince, SF 34 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +6I’ll write more in-depth about Prince’s season later this week, but quietly, he really deserves a lot of credit this season. Statistically, he’s his normal steady self, but he’s done it while taking a step back in the offense and letting the young players sink or swim, something not many people (myself included) thought he’d be able to do.|
|Kyle Singler, SF 33 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 15 PTS | +14Offensively, Singler continues to be fantastic, and not just because he’s a perimeter threat. He has a midrange game and he’s a crafty finisher around the basket. The only criticism I’d have is he was beat off the dribble a couple of times by Cleveland’s guards. But that’s not really a big deal when your big men are blocking everything.|
|Greg Monroe, C 36 MIN | 4-10 FG | 1-3 FT | 14 REB | 5 AST | 9 PTS | +9Monroe’s shot wasn’t falling against a great defender in Anderson Varejao, but unlike against the Mavs on Sunday, Monroe didn’t force the issue. He set up others, he rebounded, he kept his turnovers under control and he even blocked a couple shots.|
|Brandon Knight, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 7-7 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 17 PTS | +9Knight took care of the ball, defended well and — as he’s quietly done all season — been a pretty effective rebounder for a guard. He didn’t shoot well, but he also played through an injury and was great defensively.|
|Charlie Villanueva, PF 13 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +2Since being re-inserted into the rotation, Villanueva hasn’t done anything except re-prove what we already know — he’s an incredibly streaky shooter, capable of huge performances off the bench and capable of disappearing. He did have a block and a steal tonight, though, so he wasn’t as quiet as he normally is when his shot isn’t falling.|
|Corey Maggette, SF 16 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +4Maggette gave the Pistons solid defense and that’s about it. I like Maggette, I think his leadership has been helpful to some of the young players on the team, but he doesn’t do anything on the court so well that makes me OK with Jonas Jerebko or Kim English being glued to the bench behind him.|
|Andre Drummond, C 20 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-4 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | -1The one complaint — Drummond simply has to be a better finisher around the rim. It doesn’t always hurt him, but he tends to try to lay the ball in softly when he has an opportunity to dunk the ball. But that’s a relatively minor complaint when you consider he blocked three shots and had 12 rebounds in 20 minutes.|
|Rodney Stuckey, PG 27 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 8 PTS | -3Stuckey continues to be Detroit’s best point guard.|
|Lawrence Frank, CoachThere was very little to criticize about Frank tonight. The rotation is still not ideal — I’m still convinced that the team has better options for minutes than both Villanueva and Maggette — but credit where it’s due, the Pistons had an awful loss on Sunday, they had a day off to go home and practice and they came out and played hard tonight and had arguably their best defensive effort of the season.|