Pistons let 18-point lead slip away as Kings heat up from 3-point line

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stayed hot from the 3-point line but the Pistons couldn’t hang on to an 18-point lead at Sacramento
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 100-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Golden One Center

SLAM DUNK – If the Pistons left Portland feeling like they stole one in double overtime, they left Sacramento feeling like they gave one away. With a chance to get their five-game West Coast trip off to a 2-0 start and extend their winning streak to three games, the Pistons instead let an 18-point second-half lead get away in losing to Sacramento. After the Kings got off to the type of hot offensive start that has dogged the Pistons for the past month, they played long stretches of the type of defense that saw them rise to No. 2 in defensive rating through mid-December. The King scored 19 points in the first 6:32 of the game, but just two points for the first of the first quarter. The Pistons stretched their 13-point halftime lead to with 6:53 left in the third quarter, but then Sacramento finished the quarter on a 16-7 binge to pull within nine points. The Kings scored 55 points at the midway point of the third quarter, but finished with 45 in the game’s final 18 minutes. They cut their deficit to five early in the fourth quarter and came within two at the midway point after pairing big men DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos. Stan Van Gundy countered with Aron Baynes alongside Andre Drummond. The Kings pulled even with 3:31 left, then Reggie Jackson and Cousins traded 3-pointers. After a Garrett Temple triple put the Kings up three, Jackson had a chance to tie but missed the free throw to complete a three-point play and then Cousins hit another triple, his fourth. Sacramento finished 13 of 24 from the 3-point arc and made 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

FREE THROW – After saving them in Portland – making three straight 3-pointers in the second overtime, the last two allowing the Pistons to close on a 6-0 run to win 125-124 – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a big reason they took a 13-point halftime lead. Coming into the game shooting a career-best 39 percent from the 3-point arc, Caldwell-Pope went a perfect 3 of 3 from distance in the first half and also baited Rudy Gay into a foul that gave him three free throws that he made. He hit his first triple of the second half to extend his string of consecutive makes to seven before seeing it end with a long attempt in transition at the third-quarter buzzer. He hit two more in the fourth quarter and finished 6 of 8 from the arc to lead the Pistons with 21 points. Stan Van Gundy’s search for consistent play behind Caldwell-Pope has been a season-long quest. Stanley Johnson has played well after a slow start, though his shooting numbers are still subpar (.357 overall, .269 from the 3-point line). Johnson, who hit 1 of 6, was needed for big minutes at forward with Jon Leuer out. Van Gundy used Darrun Hilliard briefly (24 seconds) in the first half, using rookie Henry Ellenson to buy minutes at forward and allowing Johnson to swing to the backcourt while Caldwell-Pope rested. Johnson chipped in with three assists and three steals in the first half alone, when he and Caldwell-Pope had a team-best plus-15.

3-POINTER – The injury that kept Jon Leuer out of the lineup not only cost the Pistons another game lost by a starter but prevented a matchup of the free agent who left the Pistons and the one they signed to take his place. Anthony Tolliver served the Pistons well for the 1½ seasons he spent with them as their backup power forward, but Stan Van Gundy wanted to find one who offered a little more size to better complement a position where Tobias Harris entered the season as the starter. Tolliver started his third game for Sacramento, recently replacing 7-footer Kosta Koufos in the lineup as first-year coach Dave Joerger opted for floor spacing over size. Tolliver, averaging 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in about 20 minutes a game for the Kings, didn’t get much done in the first half, shooting 2 of 7. But he had a big second half, finishing with 17 points, four boards and three assists. Leuer is likely to miss the rest of the Western Conference road trip that still has stops at Golden State (Thursday), Utah (Friday) and Los Angeles (Sunday against the Lakers) with a bone bruise in his right knee. “There’s not structural damage or anything that should make it really long term,” Van Gundy said. “But those things can linger for a while, so hopefully, (his return will be) as soon as possible.” The Pistons and Leuer aren’t certain where the injury originated, Van Gundy said.

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