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Cleveland — The Pistons are in a freefall now.
They’ve been abysmal on the road and having lost eight of their last 10, it’s going to take some kind of a momentous turnaround for them to change the direction they’re heading.
All signs continue to point downward.
The Pistons stayed close in the first half but the third quarter was the undoing, as a five-point deficit turned into a 20-point margin entering the fourth quarter, and the Cleveland Cavaliers cruised to a 112-90 win on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The loss is the third straight — all on the road — and ninth in the last 11 games, dropping the Pistons to five games behind the Miami Heat for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, with 18 games left.
Blake Griffin had 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Andre Drummond had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons (29-35), who return home to play the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday. The Raptors have won both meetings this season.
After the recent skid, the playoffs are becoming a distant hope and the play on the court doesn’t look to be that of a postseason hopeful. Coach Stan Van Gundy remains optimistic, but the time is drawing short for a turnaround.
“It’s possible to do it; the problem is it’s getting late and it has to come like now,” Van Gundy said. “We have to get some wins and do it now. Do I have the confidence it can be done? Absolutely.”
After some adjustment issues, Griffin is starting to find a good groove.
He just needs more help.
Griffin went 10-of-22 from the field and 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, but the rest of the team went 24-of-65 (37 percent) and couldn’t generate much offense with him off the court.
“We’re just not giving ourselves much of a chance to play well because we’re playing so frustrated — frustrated with the referees, frustrated even more by the ball not going in the basket,” Van Gundy said. “We’re a very frustrated group right now. It’s very hard to play like that.”
Pistons coach talks about the team’s frustration and recent tailspin following Monday’s 112-90 loss.
Rod Beard, The Detroit News
The Pistons had a 28-26 lead after the first quarter and the Cavs (37-26) pulled ahead for a 54-49 halftime lead. The Cavs added to the lead, using a 17-5 run to pull away. LeBron James (31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) led the spurt with 13 straight points after Larry Nance Jr. (22 points and 15 rebounds) and Rodney Hood (13 points) each hit a jumper.
The only Pistons points during that stretch were a drive and 3-pointer by Griffin, who also ended the stretch with a jumper to cut it to 71-56.
Drummond hit a lay-in off a pass from Ish Smith and added a hook to get the lead down to 11, but after a technical foul on Drummond, George Hill scored his only points with the free throw and a jumper on the ensuing possession.
The Pistons shot 39 percent from the field in the game and Van Gundy took some of the blame for the offensive struggles.
“I have to take the responsibility. I’m obviously not getting the right shots for the right people. I’m not finding the answers, so I’ve got to take responsibility, too,” he said. “I’m not leaving it on them. I don’t come in here and lay it all on them.”
The Pistons got within 14 on a 3-pointer by Reggie Bullock (11 points) with 2:17 left in the third, but the Cavs finished the period on an 8-2 spurt, with a basket and two free throws by Hood.
The tandem of James and Nance scored the Cavs’ first 20 points but the Pistons had a 25-20 advantage after a putback dunk by Drummond. The Cavs scored the last four points of the first quarter with a jumper by Jordan Clarkson (11 points) and a reverse layup by Cedi Osman (12 points) to pull within two.
With a 90-70 lead heading into the fourth, the Cavs were able to play reserves for a big chunk of the fourth. For the Pistons, it’s an uphill battle to try to stop the freefall.
“It’s a tough position for us but we definitely have the players to be able to make the playoffs,” Bullock said. “It’s tough and it’s still an adjustment for the new guys coming in.”
Here are some other observations from the matchup:
■ The Cavs were missing two of their top frontcourt players in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, but still outrebounded the Pistons, 53-40, including 41-27 through three quarters. Nance got off to a good start on the boards, with seven of his 15 in the first quarter.
■ Drummond had a perfect night going midway through the fourth quarter. He was 5-of-5 from the field and 5-of-5 on free throws, for 15 points. He also picked up his fifth foul at the 6:18 mark, but stayed in the game.
■ Drummond entered Monday’s game with 18 straight double-doubles, but fell just one rebound short of extending it. The matchup with Nance at center seemed to favor Drummond, the league’s leading rebounder, but moved into the starting lineup for the Cavs and brought a renewed energy.
■ James Ennis III played 29 minutes but managed only 1-of-8 shooting from the field and finished with three points and three fouls. He never got into an offensive rhythm and struggled to find his shot, with some easy misses.
■ Rookie Luke Kennard had a good showing, with six points — two 3-pointers — in just under five minutes of playing time. He’s been behind Langston Galloway as the backup shooting guard, but showed flashes of what catapulted him into the reserve role with deft shooting.