Fourth-Quarter Fade

Late 17-0 Memphis run hands Pistons 100-83 road loss

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– O.J. Mayo made just four shots, all in the last 15 minutes and all of them 3-pointers that helped Memphis overtake and then pull away from the Pistons in a 100-83 win Saturday night at Memphis. The Grizzlies hit the Pistons with a late 17-0 run after a Rodney Stuckey 3-pointer gave them a 78-76 lead. Mayo finished with 17 points as he hit 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc. The first one, late in the third quarter, cut into a four-point Pistons lead. The next two caused lead changes. The last pretty much buried the Pistons, putting them 10 points behind with a little more than three minutes to play. The 17-point final margin didn’t reflect the way the game was contested. Neither side led by more than eight points until late in the fourth quarter in a game that featured 14 ties and 10 lead changes.

BLUE COLLAR – Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights hurt the Pistons with their efficient scoring, combining for 33points and 16 rebounds on 13 of 24 shooting. Speights did all of his damage in the first half, scoring 16 points before the midway point of the second quarter. His personal 10-0 run erased a 32-30 Pistons lead. Gasol finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Greg Monroe gave the Pistons another double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.

RED FLAG – The Pistons played a terrific offensive first quarter with 28 points and were ahead by two points early in the second quarter, but a rash of turnovers – they committed six in less than four minutes – enabled Memphis, which thrives on forcing turnovers and converting them into easy points, to overcome a lethargic start a night after they had to come from behind to win at Toronto while the Pistons were off and already in Memphis. The Pistons wound up committing 21 turnovers.

It started as a shootout, became a slugfest and ended in a beatdown. The Pistons did much they’ll find encouraging Saturday night in Memphis, going toe to tie with a red-hot team for three-plus quarters. But when it came to the final six minutes – the juncture Lawrence Frank calls the “moment of truth” – the Pistons had to deal with the consequences of their sins.

They couldn’t find good shots, didn’t protect the ball, allowed too many transition chances and didn’t guard the 3-point line particularly well. In a game that saw 14 ties and 10 lead changes, a 17-0 Memphis run enabled the Grizzlies to turn a two-point deficit into a runaway 100-83 win.

“The first quarter and fourth quarter were completely different,” Frank said. “Especially against a playoff-tested team like that, it gets tougher and tougher. The last six minutes of the fourth quarter are always more intense, harder, tougher, and everything you do has to be more precise. They were able to raise it another notch and we just couldn’t meet it tonight.”

Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Mareesse Speights hurt the Pistons inside early, Speights scoring 16 points before the midway point of the second quarter. His 10-0 run wiped out a 32-30 Pistons lead and gave Memphis the first breathing room of the game. But the Pistons came back, even taking a six-point lead at a few points of the third quarter, and they were in position to pull the upset over a team that had gone 9-2 in its last 11 games.

That’s when O.J. Mayo, with some help from Quincy Pondexter, badly hurt the Pistons from the perimeter. Mayo hit just four shots in scoring 17 points, but all four came from the 3-point line, where he missed only once, and all came in the final 15 minutes. The first Mayo triple brought Memphis within one and the next two changed the lead. Mayo and Pondexter combined for 19 fourth-quarter points as Memphis outscored the Pistons 31-13.

“Their defense fueled their offense,” Frank said. “Mayo gets the three threes; Pondexter, after we turned it over, hits the corner three – those are momentum-changing plays for them. There were a lot of good things we did to put ourselves in that position and now we just have to play the game with more poise down the stretch. The last six minutes, it’s just played at a whole different level.”

“They made a lot of big shots, a lot of threes,” Brandon Knight said. “We failed to come up with stops. We got a little bit stagnant and our execution on both ends was limited vs. the first three quarters of the game. It’s frustrating, but it’s a building process. We’re still getting better. We saw a lot of good signs. We’ve just got to step it up in the fourth quarter.”

Knight finished with 15 points and seven rebounds despite a tough start and Rodney Stuckey led the Pistons with 20, but it speaks to Memphis’ defensive tenacity that the backcourt starters shot a combined 11 of 38.

“We just fell apart in the last six minutes,” Stuckey said. “We weren’t really executing the way we started the game. They had some players come off the bench that made some big shots – O.J. Mayo, Pondexter. At the end of the day, we just lost the last six minutes. We can’t hang our heads. We know we gave the game away.”

The Pistons get two days off before hosting the Lakers on Tuesday, then two more days off before a back-to-back at The Palace against Atlanta and Toronto on Friday and Saturday. The next day they hit the road – and hope it doesn’t hit back too hard. The Pistons will spend 19 of the next 21 days sleeping in strange beds, playing nine of 10 games away from home. There will be many moments of truth ahead during that stretch.