Costly loss to struggling Magic as Pistons offense suffers late blackout

Blake Griffin came up one assist shy of a triple-double as the Pistons sputtered on offense over the last six minutes and in overtime to lose at Orlando
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – Four possessions, four turnovers. Fifth possession, Blake Griffin at least got off a shot, though it was blocked by Aaron Gordon. On their sixth possession – the Pistons already down 9-0 and Stan Van Gundy already burning a timeout – Reggie Bullock clanked a triple off the rim.

“It’s nine to nothing and we don’t even have a shot up,” Stan Van Gundy said. “The first shot we took got blocked. It took us six possessions until we actually got a shot on the rim. We missed it, but I was happy we got a shot up.”

Who’d have guessed that the end of the game would be even more dispiriting?

The Pistons led the vast majority of the second half after a 10-0 run early in the third quarter. And they led 97-93 midway through the fourth quarter when Van Gundy turned and nodded at Griffin and Andre Drummond, seated side by side near the end of the bench.

They scored seven points over the last 6:09 of regulation, after Griffin and Drummond’s return, and then just two points in overtime when they missed all eight of their shots and three of their five free throws in a 115-106 loss to an Orlando team on a seven-game losing streak.

Twenty-four hours after the Lakers did the Pistons a huge favor by winning at Miami and 24 hours before the Pistons face a virtual must-win situation against the Heat – the team ahead of them, now by a full three games, for the No. 8 playoff spot in the East – the Pistons lost a game they could hardly afford to drop.

“Very disappointing,” said Anthony Tolliver, who left for Griffin after the Pistons had scored 15 points in less than six minutes to hand the starters a four-point lead. “We obviously had our opportunities down the stretch. Just weren’t able to capitalize on ’em. We just went cold in that overtime and for some reason shots just wouldn’t fall for us.”

Van Gundy was buoyed by what he called the best player movement, cutting, of the season in Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee in which he inserted James Ennis in the starting lineup and brought Stanley Johnson off the bench to try to boost a unit that had been struggling. It clicked against the Bucks and Ennis again played well, scoring 21 points and hitting 8 of 9 shots including all four of his triples.

Van Gundy saw none of that movement as the Pistons scored nine points over the last 11 minutes.

“I went back to those guys – those are the guys who are supposed to win games for us,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not their fault. It’s just that we don’t move when they play.”

In the final 6:09, the Pistons shot 3 of 12 from the field and 3 of 7 from the foul line. Over the final 11 minutes – regulation plus overtime – they were 3 of 20 from the field and 5 of 12 at the line.

“I didn’t do a good job, obviously, getting us the right shots,” Van Gundy said. “And we missed the ones we got.”

“Overtime really hurt us,” said Langston Galloway, who left in the second quarter after taking an elbow that required three stitches above his right eye. “Just couldn’t buy a bucket in that overtime. I just think we missed some good shots. We had a lot of good looks. Just missed ’em tonight.”

With 20 games remaining, a three-game deficit is daunting enough. But with a six-game road trip looming in 10 days, the Pistons understand their margin for error has shrunk to imperceptible depths.

“I feel like every game is a must win down the stretch here,” Tolliver said. “There’s no nights off. There’s no lollygagging. We have 20 games to make something happen.”


Three quick observations from Friday night’s 115-106 loss to the Orlando Magic at Amway Center

1-BLACKOUT – Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond came back with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter and the Pistons nursing a 97-93 lead. The Pistons scored just seven points for the rest of regulation time and then went scoreless on their first six possessions of overtime, finally cracking the ice on Anthony Tolliver free throws with 33 seconds left. The Pistons trailed by six at the time. The Pistons were 0 of 8 from the field and 2 of 5 at the free-throw line in overtime with one turnover. When the Pistons played at Orlando on Dec. 28, the Magic – who got leading scorers Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon back that night – snapped a nine-game losing streak. This time they carried a seven-game losing skid into the game but were healthy except for the absence of reserve wing Terrence Ross. The Pistons led by a point when Evan Fournier tripled with 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After Drummond’s missed hook shot, the Magic had the ball with a nine-second differential between the shot and game clocks. Shelvin Mack’s triple from the corner missed and Griffin rebounded and hit James Ennis on a fly pattern for the tying dunk shot. The Pistons forced overtime when Nikola Vucevic slipped while driving at Drummond. The Pistons spotted Orlando a 9-0 lead by turning the ball over on their first four possessions, but came back to trail by just a point at halftime. Then they hit Orlando with a 10-0 run after the Magic scored first in the third quarter and led for almost all of the second half. But with the Pistons leading 100-93, Orlando held them without a point over their next five possessions as the Magic went on an 8-0 run to lead. The Pistons won a possession review overturn with 1:58 left and Reggie Bullock’s two free throws gave them a lead erased by Fournier’s triple.

2-PRODUCTIVE SPOT – The Pistons got a lot of punch from their small forwards, James Ennis and Stanley Johnson. Ennis posted his high since joining the Pistons, scoring 21 points and making his first seven shots before his first miss. He finished 8 of 9 and made all four of his 3-point shots. When the Pistons rallied from their early hole, Stanley Johnson was at the center of it, continuing his resurgence. Johnson scored nine first-half points in 11 minutes, hitting 3 of 6 shots and 1 of 2 from the 3-point line. He remains aggressive yet under control in transition, active and stout defensively. Over his last 14 games coming into Friday, Johnson had averaged 12.7 points on .434 shooting and .300 accuracy from the 3-point arc. While that 3-point percentage is still below the league average, Johnson’s overall shooting and decision making are significantly better. He’d shot just .348 overall before the recent stretch and his scoring has risen from 7.3 over his first 36 games.

3-BLAKE EFFECT – Since Blake Griffin joined the Pistons, their free-throw attempts have gone from 19.7 to 22.8 a game, taking them from 26th in the league before his arrival to 11th since. Makes sense, since Griffin has averaged 6.9 free throws a game over his career and he replaced Tobias Harris, who averaged only 2.9 free throws a game this season. But it’s likely the Pistons haven’t yet seen the full impact of Griffin’s ability to draw fouls. Griffin, who shot just four free throws against Orlando and didn’t take his first until 3:32 was left in the third quarter, is averaging 4.8 free throws with the Pistons, which would be a career low by a good margin. Griffin averaged 6.6 free throws with the Clippers this season, so it’s not a case of his numbers naturally diminishing as he takes his game farther from the basket, either. “I don’t think we’ve gotten him in great positions to attack,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I just don’t think we’ve probably created a lot of good opportunities for him to attack. And then our attempts are up probably a little bit because of his passing.” The Pistons did themselves no favors at the line at Orlando, going 14 of 24. Griffin was 2 of 4 and Andre Drummond was 0 of 4, including two misses on the first possession of overtime.

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