Fourth-Quarter Fix

6-game skid shows Pistons getting closer – but closing the gap is agonizing

Greg Monroe and the Pistons need to work on fourth-quarter execution.
J. Dennis/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
With all due respect for the Mayans, Lawrence Frank isn’t banking on the end of the world to solve the Pistons’ issues with closing out games.

“Go figure,” he shrugged after Thursday’s practice, the last the Pistons would ever hold if the Mayan prediction that Armageddon is at hand proves out. “This is like the 400th time the world was supposed to end. Now we’re putting it on the Mayans. I follow the Aztec calendar.”

If it tracks with the NBA calendar, the Pistons will host Washington on Friday night looking to snap not only a six-game losing streak but a season-long stigma of being unfailingly doomed to defeat when they trail after three quarters.

The Pistons are 0-17 in such circumstances, which makes it a far more pressing problem than the one that previously drew public attention: the eight losses incurred in games they at some point led by double digits.

It’s really over those last six games in their current streak, though, that the issue has become pronounced. All of them were within reach. The largest deficit the Pistons faced after three quarters in any of those half-dozen games was six points with an average deficit of 3.2 points. In their last three games, the Pistons have trailed by three, three and two points entering the fourth quarter.

In the 11 losses prior to their six-game losing streak in which the Pistons trailed after three quarters, their average deficit was 12.8 points. Even if you throw out the season’s third game, when they trailed the Lakers by 31 after three quarters, the Pistons’ average deficit in the other 10 was still 11 points. Tough to win those.

So it’s a little bit of a good news-bad news story. They’re putting themselves in position to win, which is certainly one step closer to becoming a playoff contender, but consistently losing games so tantalizingly winnable can be doubly frustrating.

It’s what Frank has referred to over and again these last few weeks – covering the last 10 to 20 percent of becoming a really good team being more difficult than the 80 or 90 percent that came before. It’s what Greg Monroe meant after Wednesday’s six-point loss at Toronto – a game the Pistons trailed by two going to the fourth quarter – when he said the Pistons were “right there” but needed to become a more precise, tougher team at winning time.

“You keep on working on it and addressing it and searching for solutions,” Frank said. “Every day, grind at it and do it harder and do it better and, over time, we’ll get better at it.”

If the Aztecs grant him the time the Mayans won’t, Frank will take his chances that his bunch has the fiber to execute a turnaround.

“Sometimes you get so sick and tired of losing or doing a certain thing consistently wrong that you say, ‘enough is enough,’ ” he said. “We’re at that position. Our guys aren’t enjoying losing. They want to be rewarded for their effort. But at the same time, you have to know why you lost. The fourth quarter is played different. It’s played harder, smarter, more intense, tougher. We’ve got to work on our fourth-quarter execution.”

And on that, the Mayans and the Aztecs likely agree.