10 Tough Ones
Pistons know their season turned on letting too many wins slip away
If the Pistons who scattered to far-flung homes upon the conclusion of their regular season could bring themselves to peek at the playoffs, Atlanta’s win over Indiana must have induced coast-to-coast winces.
For all of the disappointments their 29-win season produced, the frustration accelerated in the days and weeks following the All-Star break when both Indiana and Miami showed vulnerabilities that made the final two playoff berths more alluring than in a typical season.
With Atlanta waiting to be caught, the Pistons simply couldn’t find their footing. The Hawks made the playoffs with 38 wins, nine games ahead of the Pistons. There were 15 games alone this season that the Pistons lost after leading by double digits, most in the Eastern Conference.
“That tells you you’re pretty good at getting to the finish line, you just can’t get over the finish line,” John Loyer said before the Pistons went out with a one-point loss at Oklahoma City. “It feels like we’ve had more than that, to be honest with you. You try to put yourself in position to win the game and the better teams pull those games out. We’ve struggled to pull those games out. But it does show you that you’re capable.”
So it wasn’t hard to look back at their season and pick out 10 losses that should have been wins. They were 10 especially costly losses, yet also a useful reminder of how fine the line is between success and failure and how close the Pistons could be – after an off-season of tweaking and putting the more than $10 million in cap space they’ll take in free agency to good use – to making the leap next season.
Here’s a look at 10 losses – some where the Pistons led, some where they had good teams on the ropes, some where they let lesser teams take the play to them – that should have been wins and would have put them opposite the Pacers with a chance to topple a wobbly No. 1 seed:
- Game 2 at Memphis – Up six points with 1:09 to play, the Pistons lost in overtime to a playoff-tested team playing its home opener before a raucous crowd. Chauncey Billups missed a free throw with 52 seconds to play and a game-winning triple at the buzzer.
- Game 16 vs. Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant was on the verge of returning from his Achilles tendon tear but the Lakers were a weakened bunch when they came to The Palace in late November. The Pistons led by eight points with five minutes to play, but the Lakers – who outscored the Pistons 42-3 from the 3-point line – got a big night from Wesley Johnson and scored one of the season’s first troubling losses that became a pattern: at home, playing from ahead, lose to a lottery team.
- Game 28 vs. Charlotte – The Pistons had only recently scored some eye-opening wins that spoke to their potential, knocking off then-surging Eastern powers Miami and Indiana on the road. They led Charlotte – a team that knew they’d have to elbow aside to make the playoffs – by 20 points in the second half and by 18 with a minute to play in the third quarter. The Bobcats finished the game on a 45-17 run.
- Game 31 at Orlando – The Pistons had stayed afloat in the forgiving Eastern Conference despite a 6-10 home record by virtue of their surprising ability to win road games.They’d won seven of eight away from The Palace entering their first post-Christmas game against the Magic, an 8-20 team that had lost its last three home games against opponents with a cumulative record of 25-61. But a seven-point halftime deficit ruptured to 21 points by the late third quarter.
- Game 39 vs. Utah – The Pistons came out of their second five-day break in a three-week span out of sync. The Jazz, who carried a 13-27 record into The Palace, went on a 20-3 run that began late in the second quarter and romped to a 110-89 win on a night when The Palace was filled with plenty of Trey Burke fans sporting University of Michigan maize and blue.
- Game 42 at Milwaukee – Brandon Jennings scored 30 points in his return to the only NBA home he’d known before being traded with the Pistons and the Pistons led by 10 points late in the third quarter. Then Caron Butler hit back-to-back triples within seconds of each other, one a heave to beat the shot clock, and the Bucks, a 7-33 team coming into the game, wound up with a 104-101 win.
- Game 43 vs. New Orleans – Two nights after losing at Milwaukee, the Pistons came home to beat up on a badly depleted New Orleans lineup missing four of its top six scorers, including Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson. Andre Drummond was a dynamo, recording his first career 20-20 game, but the Pelicans finished the game on a 14-5 run to win 103-101.
- Game 52 vs. Cleveland – It was John Loyer’s second game and the Pistons were on a three-game winning streak, including a thorough handling of San Antonio two nights earlier in Loyer’s debut. They led by 10 points with eight minutes to play and a happy exit into the All-Star break appeared certain. Then Tristan Thompson scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Kyrie Irving scored 11 points with four assists the rest of the way and the Pistons lost 93-89.
- Game 53 vs. Charlotte – It was the first game back after the All-Star break and the first of a rare home-and-home, back-to-back set with the Bobcats, the two teams at the time vying for the No. 8 seed. The Bobcats came out confidently and with intensity, knocking down their first seven shots of the game, and the Pistons never really threatened to turn the tide.
- Game 66 vs. Indiana – The Pistons led by 25 points but were outscored 59-40 in the second half and lost in overtime to the Pacers, who had begun taking on water after losing their chemistry edge by dealing Danny Granger and taking on Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum. The Pistons lost Andre Drummond early in the game when he injured his neck in a collision with Roy Hibbert. With 16 games left, the Pistons had slipped five games behind Atlanta in the race for the final playoff spot.
It was, for all intents and purposes, their last gasp. Every team, every season, has a handful of games they regret. The Pistons, this season, had at least two handfuls, and probably many more, that they know should have ended differently. Looking back, it’s the source of frustration. Looking ahead, it’s cause for optimism.