CLEVELAND — The strategy of Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was sound. It’s just that power forward Tristan Thompson took it a step too far Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
A rare intentional foul off the ball inside of two minutes turned the tide entirely in favor of the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win 111-104 in front of 13,844 fans.
The Cavs (24-54) intentionally fouled 6-foot-10, 270-pound rookie Andre Drummond, a .344 free throw shooter, seven times in eight possessions in the fourth quarter, but when Thompson did it one last time with 17.1 ticks on the clock, it spelled doom.
“We were trying to yell to foul the guy with the ball,” Scott said. “(It was a) young, second-year player mistake.
“He was thinking right,” the coach added. “It was just way too late.”
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Inside of two minutes, intentional fouls off the ball result in two free throws, but the offended team gets to select the shooter from among the five players it has on the floor. That team also retains possession.
After Greg Monroe powered straight to the hoop with ridiculous ease to put the Pistons (27-52) up 105-103 with 38.8 seconds to go, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving missed a 3-pointer with 21.9 seconds left.
Drummond rebounded with 20.8 ticks on the clock and quickly got rid of the ball, but Thompson, who insisted he tried to commit the foul immediately, wrapped up the
19-year-old after he had passed and was whistled at the 17.1-second mark.
“Maybe I should have been louder and told them I was going to foul him if he got the rebound,” Thompson said. “It happens. It’s part of the game.”
Thompson said he knew the rule and repeatedly stuck to his story that he tried to foul Drummond immediately, but eventually said, “I guess it was my fault. You’ve just got to keep playing.”
Up two, the Pistons sent .786 free throw shooter Rodney Stuckey to the line. He split the pair to make it 106-103, with Cleveland then fouling .766 shooter Jonas Jerebko with 16.8 seconds left on Detroit’s ensuing possession.
Jerebko also split the pair to put the Pistons up four and the Cavs, who had six turnovers in the fourth quarter, including late mistakes by Irving and Thompson on back-to-back possessions, never recovered.
“We definitely had our chances,” a disgruntled Scott said.
Irving led the Cavs with 27 points and nine assists, but committed five turnovers. Thompson had 19 points and eight rebounds, but no boards in the second half.
Rookie Dion Waiters, limited to 15 minutes off the bench after missing 10 games with a loose cartilage fragment in his left knee, had 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
“I thought he was OK,” said Scott, who stressed prior to the game how important it was to play Waiters and Irving together in the final games of the season, then put them on the floor together for exactly 2:14 against the Pistons.
Drummond, who was 10-for-11 from the field and 9-for-17 at the line, led Detroit with 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Monroe had 23 points and eight boards. Stuckey had 18 points and seven assists and Will Bynum had 16 points as the Pistons swept the season series 4-0.
Down 89-87, the Cavs intentionally fouled Drummond seven times from the 5:21 mark to the 2:06 mark, but the rookie went 8-for-14 at the line.
The one time Cleveland didn’t foul in that stretch, after it had taken a 97-95 lead on a Thompson bucket, Irving left Bynum wide open and the Detroit guard canned a 3-pointer.
“We decided to take it off at that time for a play or two to see if we had thrown their rhythm off,” Scott said. “Kyrie got sucked in on defense and Will hit a big shot for them.”
All told, the teams played to a 12-12 tie in the 3:15 the Cavs employed hack-a-Drummond.
“You have to show confidence in your guys,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “This is our team. These are the guys we’re building with for our future, so whether it results in a win or a loss, we fight for our guys. We have confidence in (Drummond) and he came through for us.”
One for the ages
The Cavs were playing less than 24 hours after they lost a historic game in Indiana, where they led by 20 points with nine minutes remaining.
Cleveland is 3-4 this season in games it has led by 20 points or more, also blowing a franchise-record 27-point lead against Miami, a 26-point lead at Phoenix and a 22-point lead vs. New York. Prior to this season, the Cavs had won 116 straight games when they had a 20-point lead.
More damning, prior to Tuesday NBA teams had been 4,382-1 when they were up 20 points or more with nine minutes left.
“At times I say I could have done more,” Scott said. “At times I say I did about all I could.”
Scott called a pair of timeouts during Indiana’s game-changing run, but his team never recovered, leaving the coach feeling like Tuesday was a night where he had done all he could.
“The biggest common thread is we start playing the game not to lose,” Scott said. “I wouldn’t say they’re not getting the message. It’s just hard not to look at that clock when you’re that young.”
- Due in large part to Cleveland’s intentional fouling of Drummond, the Pistons were 17-for-27 at the line in the fourth quarter, when they outscored the Cavs 37-29.
- Scott said the Cavs did not send videotape of the controversial charging call against Irving late in the Indiana game to the league office. It was reviewed but not overturned by the officials, who Scott said “blew a lot of stuff.”
- Scott said he has no desire for Irving to take part in summer league play. Last offseason, the point guard broke his hand when he slammed it against a padded wall in frustration. “Bad things happen to Kyrie in summer league,” Scott said.
- C.J. Miles (concussion), Daniel Gibson (sore elbow), Luke Walton (sprained ankle) and Anderson Varejao (split quadriceps/blood thinners for collapsed lung) were out for the Cavs, while the Pistons were minus Jason Maxiel (detached retina) and Jose Calderon (strained triceps).
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.