A 9-0 run sparked by Jose Calderon’s mastery of the half-court offense and Brandon Knight’s expanding scoring repertoire put the Pistons in position to win Friday night. They led by two when native son Greg Monroe dunked off a pretty feed from Jason Maxiell with 1:58 left, but were outscored 9-2 down the stretch in a 100-95 loss.
The last two minutes were the game in microcosm: whistles that went the home team’s way and too many missed opportunities to secure defensive rebounds and end New Orleans possessions.
For all of that, the Pistons trailed by three with the ball with 12 seconds left and mismanaged the play designed in the huddle, which called for a quick entry pass to Monroe for a basket to close to within one, then foul to get another shot at the win. Instead, the Pistons wound up with a tightly contested 3-point attempt by Rodney Stuckey that didn’t come particularly close.
“It was a mixup,” said Monroe, who finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds. “We’ve just got to keep the focus at that point of the game. We had a chance to get a good shot. A lot of time on the clock. The focus has got to be there. That’s just something unacceptable at that point of the game. Guys weren’t on the same page. That’s all it was.”
“At the end of the day, when something doesn’t work, the head coach always has to take responsibility,” Lawrence Frank said. “When something doesn’t go right, all the responsibility lays on me. So I take full responsibility for it.”
The situation might not have been so dire had the Pistons done a better job staying in front of New Orleans guards. Grevis Vasquez had a 17-point, seven-assist second half – he finished with 25 and nine – and his penetration off of pick-and-roll plays was the major cause of the 46 points New Orleans scored in the paint and an underlying reason why the Hornets were able to grab 18 offensive rebounds in building a 47-40 edge on the glass despite the fact they were seriously undermanned up front, missing both No. 1 draft choice Anthony Davis and 7-foot backup Jason Smith, both out with shoulder injuries.
Ryan Anderson scored 19 points and grabbed 13 boards and Al-Farouq Aminu added 14 rebounds, each picking up six offensive rebounds.
“They did a good job of fighting for the ball,” Monroe said. “They were just working harder than us – that’s all offensive rebounding is. It’s not like you draw up something. They just worked a little bit harder to get the ball.”
The Hornets gained two critical extra possessions in the last 75 seconds. The first came when it was ruled Monroe batted a rebound of Eric Gordon’s missed free throw out of bounds when Robin Lopez appeared to hook Monroe’s arm. That resulted in an Anderson layup to put the Hornets ahead 96-93 with 1:02 to play. After a Maxiell dunk 10 seconds later, followed by his missed free throw to tie, Stuckey appeared to have control of a loose ball but a jump ball was ruled when Aminu momentarily tied him up. The Hornets won the jump and Vasquez made it count by hitting a 9-foot runner to put the Pistons down by three.
“I feel the whistle was called early on that and the jump ball might have been early, as well,” Maxiell said. “I believe that Rodney wasn’t ready for the jump ball. It was a tough call.”
The Pistons had their share of those. They outscored New Orleans by eight points from the field, but were outscored 23-10 at the foul line. The Hornets made seven more free throws than the Pistons attempted.
“They were more aggressive,” Maxiell said. “They got the benefit of the doubt in some areas, but at the same time they played a little more aggressive.”
The Pistons got out of the chute quickly, Calderon racking up assists early and often for the second straight game. Two nights earlier at Washington, the Pistons recorded assists on their first 17 baskets and Calderon finished with 18. They assisted on their first 10 baskets at New Orleans and Calderon added another 11. The Pistons led by 10 early, but neither team led by more than seven for the rest of the night.
“It comes down to a rebounding and free-throw battle,” Frank said. “Play here, play there, play short and we lost the game.”