AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — No matter how bad this season gets for the Detroit Pistons, they can always count on the Cleveland Cavaliers to help them out.
For the third time this season, the Pistons coasted to an easy win over Cleveland, winning 117-99 on Friday night.
It was a night where everyone got to pad their stats. Greg Monroe picked up 18 points and 16 rebounds, Kyle Singler had a career-best 20 points and Brandon Knight finished with 20 points and 10 assists.
For Knight, the moment had to be bittersweet. He was matched up against Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving in what people had expected to be a battle of the young point guards in the Central Division for years to come. Instead, Knight will move to shooting guard as soon as newly acquired Jose Calderon gets a work visa, and his position as Detroit’s point guard of the future is in question.
“When you are in the same draft class, and you grow up on the same AAU circuit, there’s always going to be a challenge,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “People get up when they play against All Stars, and he was very, very good tonight. The challenge is doing that every night.”
Knight, though, said he can’t focus on anything but making himself a better player, no matter who he’s facing and where he’s playing.
“I enjoy playing against Kyrie — we’re good friends — but it’s not my job to worry about who people measure me against,” Knight said. “I have to worry about reaching my potential as a player, not anyone else’s potential.”
While the game gave Knight and the Pistons a boost, it left Irving and Cleveland coach Byron Scott in a rage.
“That’s the third time we’ve played that team this year, and it is the third time they’ve beaten us with ease,” Scott said. “In all three games, they’ve played harder than we have, and they’ve been tougher than we have. Maybe we need to start having three-hour practices again, because these guys are using up all of their energy somewhere, and it sure as hell isn’t the basketball court.”
Irving admitted after the game that he had lost interest in the second half, and hinted that he wasn’t happy with his teammates.
“We played soft for the whole game, and I take responsibility for that,” Irving said. “I didn’t play with any energy, because things happened in the game and I let them get to me, and that trickled down to the rest of the team.”
When asked, Irving stressed that he wasn’t complaining about the officiating, but wouldn’t go into specifics.
“It wasn’t calls — there were just some things that happened on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor that boggled my mind,” he said. “Things that were happening on the floor, and I let them bother me. I got disinterested, but I promise that’s not going to happen again.”
Cleveland was so inept that the Pistons won the game by 18 points despite missing 20 free throws. The only two Pistons to make all of their free throws were Rodney Stuckey, who hit four, and little-used Slava Kravtsov hit a pair in the final seconds. Scott tried intentionally fouling Andre Drummond, who missed 4 of 5 from the line, and when Frank took Drummond out, Cleveland became the first team to start putting Charlie Villanueva on the line.
Villanueva has hit nearly 80 percent of his free throws during his career — not surprising from a 3-point specialist — but is hitting just 32 percent this season. His average actually went up when he hit 3 of 8 foul shots against the Cavaliers.
None of it mattered, though, as Cleveland couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to stop Detroit’s offense. When the Pistons weren’t going to the line, they were hitting an endless parade of lay-ups and dunks. Detroit finished the game shooting 54.2 percent from the floor — better than its 53.5 percent on free throws.
“We have a lot of young guys on our team, so our focus is to get stops then get on the break and run and push the ball,” said Rodney, who had 14 points in a rare start. “We did a good job of that tonight, and we need to continue doing that.”
Things won’t be as easy on Super Bowl Sunday, when the Pistons host the new-look Lakers. With Calderon not expected to get his visa in time for the game, Knight will be facing another huge challenge, as Kobe Bryant has taken over the point-guard role for Los Angeles.