Undermining their chances to win on a night they were otherwise capable of an eyebrow-raising upset, the Pistons gave the ball back to Memphis 13 times in the first half alone, good for 22 points. Just when they cleaned things up, forging a 57-all tie with Memphis over the first six minutes of the third quarter when they turned it over not at all, their need for holiday giving returned in force.
On consecutive possessions, the Pistons coughed it up and Memphis, now a league-best 12-2, converted each one into three-point trips – a layup and free throw by Mike Conley off a Kyle Singler pass, then a Conley triple off a Jason Maxiell bobble – and suddenly it was a six-point deficit again. So many times, Memphis baskets off turnovers came seconds after the Pistons appeared to be about to score themselves.
“That’s what killed us tonight,” Greg Monroe lamented after his 17-point, nine-rebound night went to waste in part because he was guilty of seven turnovers. “We have to find a way to convert those plays and if we don’t turn it over as many times as we do, we probably give ourselves a better chance.”
The Pistons committed 22 for the game, good for 31 Memphis points, a 21-point edge over the output they managed off 12 Memphis turnovers. On a night both teams struggled to score in their half-court offense, that type of disparity was even more glaring.
“Crippling,” Lawrence Frank said. “Memphis is obviously a very, very good team, but how many of them were forced? How many were unforced? You think about the number of transition opportunities we squandered, just being too careless with the ball. You give ’em 31 of their points off 22 of our turnovers. For the most part, our effort was right. We’ve just got to play smarter basketball.”
For all of that, the Pistons were still within eight points midway through the fourth quarter. Even as their defense kept forcing Memphis misses – the Grizzlies didn’t score a fourth-quarter point for almost four minutes – the Pistons couldn’t make a push, turnovers again their undoing.
“They are a very good defensive team, but I think a lot of our problems came from turnovers tonight, unforced turnovers, unforced errors,” said Brandon Knight, who contributed six to the total, five in the first half. “Gave ’em a lot of easy baskets. Just carelessness. Just not valuing the basketball as much as we should. There wasn’t really a whole lot of pressure, just a lot of it was mishandled passes, overdribbling, stuff like that.”
The Pistons mitigated the damage inflicted by the powerful inside pair of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Jason Maxiell doing especially good work in helping limit Randolph to eight points and five rebounds. They pressured Memphis into 4 of 16 shooting from the 3-point line. And they won the rebound battle 46-39.
There wasn’t anything in the box score that indicated a Memphis win, in fact, until you got to the hideious turnover line.
“We battled,” Frank said. ‘We competed. Did a good job in the second half. But we shot ourselves in the foot. We don’t even get a shot up. We just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be to win the game.”