The Detroit Pistons believe they are good enough to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a playoff series. Although history says that a No. 8 seed almost never takes down a No. 1 seed, there were reasons to think the Pistons could at least make it an interesting series. Heading into Cleveland for Game 1 on Saturday night, the Pistons did just that.
They held an 83-79 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game before the Cavs went on a final run that put away a 106-101 victory for the home team. But there are still reasons to hope for the Pistons, even if it’s still unlikely that they’ll win the series. The odds of Detroit winning the series currently sit at about 9.5%, according to Basketball-Reference.com. For a team that was so close to taking the first game of the series on the road against a battle-tested playoff team, those odds seem a bit low.
The Pistons’ first piece of good news is that they held the Cavs’ role players down with quality defense. Among the 106 points scored by Cleveland, 76% of them came from LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. The rest of the team, which includes J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Richard Jefferson, scored 25 points combined on 10-25 shooting.
The Pistons played tough defense and limited the role players, which is their key to the series. It’s hard to stop the mighty force of James, Irving, and Love, but if you don’t have Smith and Dellavedova raining three-pointers from all over the floor, you give yourself a fighting chance. The Pistons did that in Game 1, and although it didn’t work out in the end, they’re on the right track.
The next reason for hope: Andre Drummond didn’t even have a great game and the Pistons still hung in there. Drummond scored 13 points with 11 rebounds and one block, only being forced to take two free throws in the process. Detroit was 12-5 when Drummond scored 21 or more points in a game this season and was 6-3 when he grabbed 20 or more rebounds.
A few big games from Drummond, even if it forced the Cavs to foul him and make him shoot free throws — something he’s historically bad at doing — could help the Pistons take a few games in the middle of the series and put some serious pressure on the Cavs. Cleveland doesn’t have the depth or the defensive talent in the front court to contend with Drummond when he’s at his best.
Possibly the biggest advantage that the Pistons may have in this series is getting the games to Detroit. They held close to Cleveland on the road in Game 1 despite a pro-Cavs crowd and it being the first playoff game for many of their most important players. They even had chances to steal the game in the fourth quarter. This, from a team that was 18-23 on the road this season, is pretty impressive.
The Cavs and Pistons have one more game in Cleveland before they head to Detroit for the next two, which makes Game 2 all the more important for the Pistons. If they can squeak out a victory and stun the Cavs on their own court, they’ll have a big advantage in Game 3, playing in front of their loud fans at home.
To make matters even more interesting, Detroit was a solid 26-15 on their home court this year, and they were 10-5 at home after the All-Star break, including solid victories over the Raptors, Blazers, and Thunder. Although it’s likely that the Cavaliers will win this first-round playoff series and head to the second round, still the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, there are things to like about what the Pistons are doing.
They’re certainly the underdogs, and losing Game 1 does nothing to help their status, no matter how close they kept the game and how well they played. But there’s still hope that they can make this a close, interesting series.
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