Perhaps the Pistons thought the same thing, to their peril. Instead, Orlando – a limited offensive team and a franchise rebuilding in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure – scored an unimaginable 48 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to win 110-106.
One game after the Pistons held Philadelphia under 30 percent shooting to win by 18 on the road, they suffered their most disheartening loss of a season that’s already had too many of them. The Pistons are now 1-9, including a 0-3 home record in which they’ve lost double-digit second-half leads in all.
“I guess we need these lessons to remind us what it’s going to take to win,” Lawrence Frank said. “You score 106 points, shoot 53 percent from the field and lose the game.”
If complacency set in for the Pistons with the 13-point lead, Frank did his best to root it out quickly. A 3-point basket by ex-Piston Arron Afflalo to cut the Detroit lead to 10 got Frank off the bench immediately for a timeout.
“You could see where this game was headed,” he said. “We were scoring and had a good flow, but we weren’t guarding anyone and it catches up to you. You start playing that game … you could see it early.”
Prince and Monroe alone combined for 21 third-quarter points, making 9 of 13 shots. With Orlando determined to take them away in the fourth quarter – Prince didn’t get off a shot, Monroe made 1 of 2 – and daring other Pistons to beat them … well, the Pistons did manage 31 fourth-quarter points, which should be good enough to protect a lead every time.
“We talked about some things in that timeout. ‘Let’s not trade baskets,’ ” Prince said. “But that was the case.”
Orlando beat the Pistons up on the glass, holding a 44-30 edge overall and a 14-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. The edge was 14-8 in the fourth quarter, when Orlando scored 39 points, including nine second-chance points thanks to five offensive rebounds.
For all of that, the Pistons came back from four points behind to take a 102-101 lead on two Kyle Singler free throws with 48 seconds left. The lead lasted all of five seconds and Singler was at the heart of the turnaround.
The Magic called timeout and inbounded the ball at their end. J.J. Redick threw an entry pass to rookie center Nikola Vucevic, then used a crushing screen from 290-pound Glen Davis on Singler to shake free for a triple he buried within arm’s length of the Detroit bench after taking a return pass from Vucevic.
“I felt it coming,” Singler said. “I didn’t really know which side the screen was going to come. I misread it and he went the other way and I got hit with a pretty good screen. It was a good shot by him.”
“We knew exactly what was there,” Frank said. “You’ve got to give them credit. He got it quick, before we were able to react. We knew the play. We were on it. We were just late responding to it.”
Monroe missed a short attempt at the other end when he was engulfed by Orlando defenders and the Pistons again yielded a too-easy shot, a 6-foot stab hook by Davis to put Orlando up by four. The Magic shot 56 percent in the second half.
“Just a letup of concentration, focus,” said Singler, making his second successive start, this one even though Rodney Stuckey was back from illness. “It’s something we can correct. We’ve shown we can be a good defensive team. We just need to put forth the right amount of effort.”
The Pistons have now been outscored 102-63 in their three home games this season, squandering leads to lose each time.
“I think it’s an alarming trend,” Prince said. “Early in the season, you want to play well for your fans. You want to dig down deep and be aggressive and do the things you need to do to win the game. But it’s tough for us. I know guys want to win. I know guys are upset when we come out here and put a lot into and don’t get a win.
“We’ve got to do a lot better and we’ve got to figure it out quickly.”
“What is evident is that when you don’t defend, you’re going to lose,” Frank said. “In the fourth quarter, everything is played harder, tougher, more intense and smarter. It’s evident what we need to do. We just have to continue to work at it and get better at it.”