AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t exactly one of the NBA’s top teams, but the Detroit Pistons did the job they were supposed to do Monday night.
Detroit took control early, leading by as many as 22 in the first half and then held off a late Cleveland charge to post a fifth straight home win, 89-79. Detroit is now 6-5 after a franchise-record 0-8 start.
“In my mind, we’re not much different now than we were then,” said Brandon Knight, who finished with 17 points, five assists and five rebounds. “We’re just executing a little better and we’re getting a little better defensively. I think that’s the big thing — we are getting a lot more effort from different guys on our team.”
Knight was correct that it was the defense getting things done for the Pistons, especially in the first half. The Cavaliers shot only 25 percent in the first quarter, as Detroit built a 30-17 lead.
“We got off to a great early start with our inside defense,” said Andre Drummond, who had three of Detroit’s 13 blocks. “It all really started with Jason Maxiell tonight. He got the whole flow of the game going with his blocks and his strong presence at the rim. Watching him got me going, as well.”
Maxiell finished with 12 points and five blocks, and Greg Monroe had nine points and 14 rebounds.
“Tonight was a good game, because we won the game shooting in the low 40s,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “We were able to do that by holding them to 33 percent and we had good rim protection.”
Things did get a little scary late in the game for the few fans scattered around the Palace. Anderson Varejao helped Cleveland get within 83-76 with 3:32 to play. That’s when the Pistons defense stepped back up, holding the Cavaliers to just three points down the stretch.
“We kind of got away from the things we had been doing in the first half,” Drummond said. “We got back to it at the end, and we ended up coming away with the win.”
With Detroit dominating inside, the Pistons’ perimeter players were able to take more chances.
“It definitely means a lot when the big guys are protecting the rim like that,” Knight said. “That means we know we can the pressure the ball. You don’t want to rely on it, but we know now that if we get beat, the big guys will step up and have different consequences where they can take a charge or block a shot.”
Cleveland’s offense came into the game with a handicap because Dion Waiters missed the game with a sprained ankle. Without him or Kyrie Irving, who is sidelined with a broken finger, the Cavaliers found themselves unable to drive the ball to the basket.
“Dribble penetration is always important for us, and when you play against a team that can pack the lane and pack the paint, you need someone who is a creator,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “That guy can draw someone to him, then kick it out to someone who is open. We didn’t have that today, so Detroit was able to contest our outside shots.
“We picked things up defensively in the second half, but we never got it going offensively. Give Detroit credit — they were aggressive all night and they took away what we needed.”
The Pistons improved to 6-13 with a home win over a 4-14 team. Frank, however, wouldn’t say it was a game Detroit should have won.
“I never believed there are teams you should beat because then what happens when you play a team you aren’t supposed to beat?” he said. “On any given night, anyone can beat anyone. That’s why is no one is going perfect this season.”