Pistons let 18-point lead slip away as Kings heat up from 3-point line
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
SACRAMENTO – This wasn’t one of those “tip your hat” to the other guys kind of loss. This was the type of loss with staying power. The type you rue when the snow starts to melt and you’re in a playoff race scratching for every win and cursing those games you kinda, sorta gave away.
“That’s a game we should’ve won,” Stan Van Gundy said after the Pistons saw an 18-point second-half lead evaporate in a 100-94 loss to Sacramento in the new Golden One Center on Tuesday. “We just didn’t put enough into it in the second half in some very key areas. It just wasn’t good.”
You can break the game out into three distinct segments: the first six minutes, the next 24 and the final 18. The Pistons were dominant through the second segment in building their lead after both teams came out scoring furiously, but started rupturing defensively and lapsed into one-on-one offense at the other end. After Tobias Harris’ triple put the Pistons ahead 70-52 with 6:53 to play in the third quarter, the Pistons were outscored 48-24.
“We got up, feeling good. They kept pressing. They had a lot of energy and just kept playing hard and we kind of relaxed,” Harris said. “It’s something to learn from, but it’s disappointing. We should be walking out of here with the victory.”
Andre Drummond has had a far bigger impact on the box score than his nine-point, 12-rebound night. But his seven blocked shots were a career high and he had three steals, too. Cousins gave him trouble with his preposterous 3-point shooting, hitting 4 of 5 including 2 of 2 after returning with 6:39 left, but around the rim he was the Drummond that Van Gundy has been encouraging him to become since landing with the Pistons.
One problem: Often when Drummond left his man to cut off penetration, the rotation behind him didn’t arrive to cover up for his vacated cover.
“I had my mind set on trying to just take everything away from the paint,” he said. “That’s what they’re good at. Any time they came in there, I knew they weren’t trying to pass it; they were trying to score. So I tried to contest everything and block shots, but in return they got a lot of offensive rebounds and some of the baskets they made. The effort was there, but we’ve got to figure a way to get people off the glass.”
“He was protecting the basket, but he would come and nobody would block out,” Van Gundy said. “Really disappointing. Those guys want him to come and help, but then they didn’t do their job.”
The Pistons were outrebounded 46-35 and allowed Sacramento 15 second-chance points. And 3-point shooting badly hurt the Pistons again, a recent scourge. The Kings hit 13 of 24, including 4 of 6 in the decisive fourth quarter – and four straight during a stretch where the Pistons went from leading 89-84 to trailing 98-94.
“Coach has said our closeouts haven’t been good and that’s true,” Harris said. “Teams are shooting the ball really well from three and, a lot of them tonight, we could’ve helped ourselves out. It’s like some teams, they’re shooting threes and we’re kind of surprised they’re taking them in some instances. It’s something we have to get better at.”
Van Gundy found disturbing parallels between this game and last week’s win over Charlotte when the Pistons lost all of a 19-point lead in the final 10 minutes but hung on to win by two points.
“We get the lead and, ‘OK, well, it’s only one three. I don’t need to close on that one,’ ” he said. “And then, all of a sudden, they’re rolling and it’s tough to stop. I thought we really let up when we got the lead instead of closing it out. We clearly didn’t learn anything from the Charlotte game.”
The Pistons actually squandered one of their better 3-point shooting performances, going 12 of 27. Most of it was the work of their backcourt, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in particular. He finished 6 of 8, hitting his first four to extend his streak of consecutive makes to seven coming off the three he made in the second overtime at Portland in Sunday’s win. Reggie Jackson hit 3 of 5 and finished with 19 points to supplement Caldwell-Pope’s 21.
With Jon Leuer sitting out – a bone bruise in his right knee that Van Gundy anticipates will sideline him for the final three games of the Western road trip – and foul trouble dotting the lineup in the first half, Van Gundy called on rookie Henry Ellenson for seven minutes, the first time he’s played in something other than a blowout this season. He scored on a tip-in on his first possession and picked up two assists and two rebounds.
Van Gundy used both backup centers, pairing Boban Marjanovic against Kosta Koufos but using Aron Baynes when Sacramento went with Cousins and Koufos so Baynes could guard Cousins at the 3-point line. Marjanovic had eight points and four rebounds in 10 minutes.
All of that would have been a pleasant sidebar had the Pistons carried out what seemed a relatively straightforward task: protect an 18-point lead with 18 minutes to play.
“We didn’t come out with any energy,” Drummond said of Sacramento’s final push. “In that last timeout, we allowed them to come out and shoot a wide-open three. Garrett Temple took two steps in and shot a three. That’s what really got them going. I can try to break the game down as much as possible. We still lost the game at the end of the day.”