Detroit — In the season opener, the Pistons let a late lead get away in a loss to the Washington Wizards.
They did it again in the home opener.
Not once, but twice.
The Pistons squandered an eight-point lead in the final four minutes of regulation and a nine-point lead in the first overtime, letting the Cleveland Cavaliers claw back into the game time and time again.
In the second overtime, the Pistons fell into a deficit and couldn’t climb out, taking a deflating, 128-119 loss to the Cavs on Saturday night in the first regular-season game at Little Caesars Arena since the start of the pandemic in March.
BOX SCORE: Cavaliers 128, Pistons 119, 2OT
Jerami Grant had 28 points and 10 rebounds, Blake Griffin 26 points — on 8-of-16 from 3-point range — and Delon Wright 19 points for the Pistons (0-2).
It was a weird scene at Little Caesars Arena, which had a limited number of spectators — fewer than 250, as allowed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It was also the first game back at Little Caesars Arena for longtime Pistons center Andre Drummond, who finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds and five assists.
More than anything, it was the Pistons’ turnovers that doomed them for the second straight game.
“Hopefully (the lesson) is turnovers. You can’t beat anybody in this league turning the ball over 24 times and giving up 31 points. That’s been our bugaboo; it’s been our Achilles heel,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Until we did that, we put ourselves in a great position to win. Then we try to make plays…”
“We had a healthy little lead in the first quarter and then started turning the ball over, making unfortunate plays. Nobody’s out there trying to do it — but until we get used to each other, playing with each other and get that chemistry together early and build on the lead that you have, it’s a growing experience.”
In the second overtime, the Cavs (2-0) jumped out to a hot start, with a pair of baskets by Collin Sexton (32 points) and a 3-pointer by Darius Garland (21 points and 12 assists). Kevin Love (15 points and nine rebounds) hit three free throws, giving the Cavs their biggest lead since late in the third quarter.
They rolled the rest of the way.
The blown leads weighed on the Pistons, who had opportunities to win both games, but let them slip away.
“Very frustrating. Clearly very frustrating,” said Griffin, who played a team-high 44 minutes, partly because Mason Plumlee fouled out and Jahlil Okafor had a foot injury.
Derrick Rose had a couple of key turnovers late in regulation and in overtime, when the ball squirted away from him on potential drives to the basket, and the Cavs were able to use those as transition opportunities for easy baskets and chip away at the lead.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Any time you do turn the ball over, it’s just transition in the other direction,” Grant said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. We’re learning each other right now, it’s still the beginning of the season. It’s going to be a process and we know that.”
The Pistons trailed, 78-67, midway through the third quarter and looked to be sinking, but they turned up the defense and went on a 19-3 run to finish the quarter, capped by a running halfcourt heave by Grant at the buzzer. That made it an 86-81 margin, the Pistons’ first lead since late in the first quarter.
They looked to have the game in hand, leading by eight after a 3-pointer by Wright, but the Pistons didn’t score in the remainder of regulation and the Cavs got a dunk by Sexton and Drummond went 5-of-6 on free throws, tying it at 101 with 1:08 left.
The Cavs had a chance to win but missed on a drive by Garland.
The Pistons jumped ahead in overtime, with a free throw by Grant, a drive by Rose (13 points) and a putback dunk by Grant. Rose followed with a 3-pointer and the Pistons had a 109-101 lead at the 3:47 mark, but the Cavs weren’t done.
Drummond converted a putback dunk and after a 3-pointer by Grant, Drummond scored on a hook and Love followed with a 3-pointer. The Cavs had a 9-0 run — one better than their finish to regulation — and tied it on a drive by Sexton with 7.6 seconds left.