AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Dion Waiters envisioned making a game-winning NBA shot many times. When he got a chance to do for real, the second-year Cleveland Cavaliers guard was ready for the challenge.
Waiters hit a 19-foot jumper at the buzzer, and the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers erased a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Detroit Pistons 97-96 Wednesday night at The Palace.
After an inbounds pass from forward Luol Deng, Waiters fired in his shot from the right side over Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey.
“Those are the shots you always picture in your head when you’re in the gym by yourself, counting down (the clock),” said Waiters, who wound up with 18 points. “You’re always thinking about a game like that, you’re always thinking about a game-winner. When the time comes, are you going to be ready?
“My time was tonight. Coach (Mike Brown) came to me, believed in me, and I was able to knock down a shot for my team.”
Waiters and Brown disagreed afterward about the play call. Brown said he wanted Waiters to attack the basket.
“I told him to drive it because we were in the bonus,” Brown said. “I felt Stuckey or whoever was guarding him would be up in his chest and probably pick up a foul. That’s how much he listens to me.”
Brown was smiling on the last sentence, and so was Waiters when he was asked about the play moments later.
“He didn’t say drive,” Waiters said.
There was no dispute this was an unlikely comeback, even though the Cavaliers did something similar in their last trip to Detroit. They were down nine points with three minutes remaining, then reeled off 10 unanswered points. On Feb. 12, Cleveland outscored the Pistons 34-23 in the fourth quarter in a 93-89 win.
“It’s just growth,” Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack said of the latest comeback. “Once you’ve been put in these positions before, you understand what it takes to dig yourself out. Obviously, we don’t like playing from behind, but we’re somewhat battle-tested in that sense.”
Reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova scored a career-high 21 points for Cleveland, which dressed only 10 players because of injuries but extended its winning streak to three games. The Cavaliers (29-44) lead the season series 2-1.
Jack tossed in 17 points, while Cleveland center Anderson Varejao contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds.
Detroit (26-45) lost for the 11th time after taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
“You’re a shot away from winning the game,” Pistons interim head coach John Loyer said. “You do have to think about all of the little things, whether it’s a missed free throw, whether it’s a missed block-out. It goes more than just the last play when you lose a tight game. There are so many things during the game you could change.”
The Pistons missed their last five shot attempts and also committed a turnover during Cleveland’s late rally.
“I think we were kind of rushing a little bit instead of just taking our time,” Detroit point guard Brandon Jennings said. “We had a couple of bad possessions down the stretch where we couldn’t get a shot.”
Forward Josh Smith led the Pistons with 24 points, and he added eight rebounds and six assists. Jennings recorded his 17th double-double with 17 points and 13 assists for Detroit, which lost for the sixth time in seven games. Guard Kyle Singler added 18 points, and power forward Greg Monroe chipped in 14.
Jack made a 3-pointer over Detroit center Andre Drummond to start the late run. Another Jack basket got the deficit down to four, and his three-point play with 53.8 seconds remaining made it 96-95.
Smith and Jennings missed jumpers, giving Cleveland one last chance with 3.2 seconds left.
NOTES: Cleveland PG Kyrie Irving missed his sixth consecutive game with a left biceps strain. The Cavaliers’ top draft pick, F Anthony Bennett, sat out for the ninth consecutive game with a left patellar tendon strain. SF Carrick Felix (knee), G Sergey Karasev (knee) and SF C.J. Miles (ankle) were also sidelined. … The Cavaliers have used 18 different lineups, and only one player, PF Tristan Thompson, has appeared in every game. … Pistons C Andre Drummond’s average of 12.8 rebounds per game is the highest by any player 20 years old or younger in league history. Dwight Howard (12.5 with Orlando in 2005-06) holds the record. … Detroit is 4-22 when outrebounded by its opponent. The Pistons finished with a 48-45 rebounding edge Wednesday. … Mike Brown recorded his 300th career victory as a Cavaliers coach in their 102-100 win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Lenny Wilkins (316) and Bill Fitch (304) are the only other Cleveland coaches with more victories.
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