AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Not the way you want to finish a game before the NBA All-Star break when you are scrambling for wins.
Not the manner you want to end any contest you've led and often dominated for 46 minutes and then find a way to lose.
The Pistons (22-30) did just that at the Palace on Wednesday night, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33), 93-89, after outplaying the Cavs much of the time.
Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving hit a long three-pointer and all of his three throws in the final quarter to almost singlehandedly beat the Pistons, who were outscored in the fourth, 34-23.
At the half, the Pistons led, 51-40, and looked as if they would win after opening a 28-22 lead in the first.
The Pistons got great play all evening from Josh Smith, who scored 18 points, and Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were solid with 16 points apiece.
Kyle Singler (12 points) also played stoutly at both ends of the court.
The Cavs' Tristan Thompson scored a game-high 25 points, and Irving scored 23.
Pistons interim coach John Loyer was disappointed and puzzled by the loss, a game Detroit needed if it wants to be taken seriously as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
"We moved the ball pretty good and shared it in the first half," Loyer said. "But the momentum shifted a little in the fourth quarter, and Cleveland regained focus and we gave up 34 points. I think the effort was there for 48 minutes, but we didn't guard the defense like we did in the first three quarters."
Loyer seemed as surprised as anyone that the Pistons couldn't hold on.
"We led for 46 minutes, and the focus was great," he said. "But there's a laundry list of four of five things that we got to take a look at."
Loyer said the break will give him and his coaching staff time to look at why the Pistons seem to fade late in games.
"There's a lot of variables we'll take a look at during the break," Loyer said. "We don't seem to have the pace in the second half we had in the first."
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey left in the third quarter and did not return, complaining of dizziness.
The Cavs cut the lead to 54-51 at 6:40 of the third with center Tyler Zeller catching fire before a triple by Brandon Jennings gave the Pistons some breathing room. Cleveland rallied again and moved to within 59-58 with still more than 3 minutes left in the quarter.
With Singler strong at both ends of the court, scoring and rebounding, Smith nailed a three-pointer with less than a minute left in the second to give the Pistons a well-earned 51-40 halftime lead.
Overlooked Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko got playing time in the second quarter, and Drummond and Singler continued to move the scoreboard. The Pistons led, 37-30, with less than 6 minutes left in the second.
The Pistons led, 13-7, at 7:33 in the first quarter thanks to a busy start by Monroe, Smith, Drummond, Jennings and Singler.
The Pistons played tough defense, and Monroe, Singler and Jennings made their shots.
Thompson kept Cleveland in the game, scoring six early points, but Monroe scored 11 of his own.
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