DENVER – In the Mile High City, Ben Gordon’s shooting range was a mile deep. In a game that seemed over before the first TV timeout came, a shooting night for the ages by Gordon carried the Pistons to an improbable comeback and a 31-point turnaround.
But when the dust settled on this wild west shootout, the Pistons were left with a loss that looked just like the other three they suffered on their five-game trek westward but felt three times worse. As they did against Utah, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pistons lost to Denver in the final minutes, falling 116-115 after spotting the Nuggets a 25-point lead.
“Sometimes you’ve got to experience a little bit of hell before you can get to heaven,” Lawrence Frank said outside a somber and spent locker room. “It’s a painful, painful way to lose. We put ourselves in a position to win, but we also put ourselves in a position to lose. It’s going to take some painful experiences like this. Our guys busted their tail. We’re getting closer and closer. It’s painful – it hurts like hell. You’re one play away from winning the game and we just couldn’t make that play.”
There were two ties and two lead changes in the final four minutes, but the Pistons led 115-111 after a Brandon Knight triple with two minutes to go. They still led 115-112 with 11 seconds left and planned to foul to prevent Denver from hitting a tying 3-point shot.
But ex-Piston Arron Afflalo, backing down inside the 3-point line on Gordon, scored after Gordon tried to intentionally foul him. The basket counted, Gordon missed the free throw and JaVale McGee – making his Nuggets debut – slipped inside Greg Monroe for a tip that put the Nuggets ahead by a point with 5.6 seconds left.
The Pistons couldn’t have asked for a better chance at the win – not on this night. But a Gordon 21-footer bounced off and the Pistons were denied the greatest comeback in franchise history.
Gordon finished with 45 points, tying the NBA record he shared with Latrell Sprewell for most 3-point shots made without a miss in a game at nine. He scored 21 in the second quarter and 15 more in the third after the Pistons fell behind 45-20, allowing Denver to shoot a scorching 84 percent in the first quarter. Gordon hit 13 of 22 shots and 10 of 11 free throws and also found time to hand out eight assists, a brilliant night by any barometer, but all in defeat.
“It was just unfortunate after such a gutty effort by a team,” he said. “Even though I had that many points, a lot of guys made really, really big shots. It’s so disappointing for all of us.”
“The guy was freaking off the charts,” Frank said. “He was great. Not only did he make shots, he plays plays. The guy made plays for everyone. You can’t say enough positive adjectives about the job he did. He was phenomenal.”
The cruelest twist to a dastardly loss was that Gordon was involved in the two critical plays in the last six seconds and both went against him – the foul on Afflalo and the missed jumper on a night his jump shot was golden.
“The plan was to foul after two seconds went off the clock,” Gordon said. Denver looked to be attempting to find Wilson Chandler for a tying three, but when Tayshaun Prince took that option away, Afflalo improvised. “I think we had a chance to foul before Afflalo actually got the ball. Once he got the ball, I was thinking to let him kind of go. Then I heard everybody screaming ‘foul, foul, foul.’ I probably should have just stuck to my instincts or just wrapped him up so he couldn’t finish, either way. I’ve got to make a better play at the end.”
Gordon’s nine triples were one shy of the franchise record for made threes in a game, a mark Joe Dumars holds. The Pistons’ 14 triples were one off of the team record. Prince and Knight each hit a pair and Jonas Jerebko added another as the Pistons missed just four from the arc.
They got terrific play from the second unit, which started the comeback by turning off the tap on Denver’s offense. Will Bynum, first off the bench with Gordon starting while Rodney Stuckey sat out with the left toe injury incurred last week at Sacramento, gave the Pistons 10 points and six assists and Jerebko had 12 points and 10 boards. Knight finished with 16 points and four assists and Greg Monroe with 13 points, 11 boards and three steals.
Lots of positives – but one oppressive negative.
“I feel like we had a chance to win every game on this trip,” said Ben Wallace, whose defense again was a major component of the second unit’s mojo. “We let ’em get away, just like tonight. We had an opportunity to win the game. We let it slip away.”
“BG was special tonight,” Frank said. “It was just a shame we couldn’t close out the game.”