Streaks Stay Alive

Late Miami spurt undermines great first half as Pistons lose 10th straight

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

White Hot – The Pistons led for about 90 percent of the first three quarters, but Miami closed the third quarter on a 6-0 run to take a five-point lead and went on to its 25th consecutive victory. The 103-89 outcome was the 10th straight loss for the Pistons. Greg Monroe and Jose Calderon played a superb first half as the Pistons, who led by 11, settled for a 54-51 halftime edge. Monroe finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds and six assists and Calderon with 18 points and seven assists. LeBron James dominated when Miami pressed on the pedal, finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons didn’t get a lot out of their bench, but Jonas Jerebko was the shining exception. The only Pistons reserve to score a point until a Will Bynum jump shot early in the fourth quarter, Jerebko gave the Pistons nine points and eight rebounds in one of his best outings of the season. Rookie Kyle Singler also played a well-rounded game, scoring 18 points to go with eight rebounds on 8 of 14 shooting despite expending a great deal of energy trying to contain James on the defensive end.

RED FLAG – The Pistons, snapping a recent trend of falling behind by wide margins early against elite teams, played a superb first half offensively, scoring 54 points and racking up 16 assists on 21 baskets. It didn’t figure they could keep up that level of efficiency against one of the NBA’s top defensive teams, and they didn’t, scoring just 35 second-half points. They still would have given themselves a shot to win if they hadn’t turned the ball over quite as much. The Pistons committed 22 turnovers and the Heat converted them into 27 points.

MIAMI – It was the loss the world expected but for the longest time it didn’t follow the plot anyone anticipated. And the 103-89 loss to Miami – the Pistons’ 10th straight setback, the Heat’s 25th straight win – or at least the first three quarters of it, should serve as the blueprint for how they conduct their business over the final 12 games of a season fraught with disappointment.

“I think this is our team,” Jose Calderon said. “This is the team we’ve got to be. It’s not about winning or losing at this time of the season. It’s about showing what we can do, have pride, play 48 minutes. They’re a great team, but I think we gave it our best. It’s not like they just beat us. They beat 24 teams before us. I think a lot of people expected us to come here and they beat us by 40 or 50. That’s not going to happen. We’ve got to be positive with the effort we (gave) tonight. That’s for sure.”

The Pistons led for almost all of the first three quarters, and by as much as 11 points in the first half. Miami came with all of its defensive fury in the second half, holding the Pistons to 35 points and 30 percent shooting after a 54-point first half in which the Pistons shot 52 percent. Turnovers were especially costly: The Pistons committed 22 and the Heat pounced on them for 27 points.

But after getting gashed defensively repeatedly since the All-Star break, and falling behind by double digits early in many games where the snowball kept rolling downhill, the Pistons at least proved to themselves that, even shorthanded, they can still put themselves in position to win games if they play hard and stay mentally vigilant.

“There were good things we did,” Lawrence Frank said he told his team after the game, one in which Miami closed with a 36-21 spurt over the last 13 minutes after the Pistons last led at 67-66. “With that being said, we’re here to win the game. So why did we lose? Turnovers and game-plan mistakes and our inability to sustain things. Now, we’ve got a quick turnaround” – the Pistons play at Charlotte, winners of two straight, on Saturday night – “and we’ve got to be ready. We have our own streak going. Bottom line for us is to compete every single night. You can’t just do it in Miami. You’ve got to do it every night. That’s the price of admission in the NBA.”

The Pistons made the price of admission worth it in a dazzling first half in which Calderon and Greg Monroe were sublime. Both made 6 of 7 shots. Calderon had 16 points and six assists, Monroe 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Pistons racked up 16 assists on their 21 baskets.

“We had such great, crisp ball movement for the better part of the first half,” Frank said. “I counted only four bad offensive possessions. Our effort was good. We’ve got to clean up some execution, but I really liked our intent in the first half.”

“The ball was just popping,” said Monroe, who finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds and six assists while Chris Bosh shot 1 of 7 in a five-point, six-rebound performance. “Everybody was just moving the ball. We were being patient and waiting for the right shot. A very good offensive first half. That’s something we have to continue to do, continue to get better at.”

Miami wouldn’t allow the luxury of patience in the second half, getting notably more aggressive with Calderon, even putting 6-foot-8 LeBron James on him.

“In the second half, they looked like a different team out there,” Calderon said. “It wasn’t the same. They tweaked a little their game plan and it was more difficult to make passes and find open guys. Just a little bit more aggressive, blitzing the pick and rolls. I was finding people at the beginning. It was a little harder at the end.”

The Heat weren’t very tight with the ball either, committing 20 turnovers that the Pistons turned into 22 points, but Miami’s margin for error could absorb such sloppiness. The Pistons don’t have that luxury.

Maybe their margin for error will expand a little in the near future, though. The Pistons played their 20th straight game without Andre Drummond and their fourth in a row minus Brandon Knight, but both appear to be inching closer to returns. Knight, in fact, could be in uniform as soon as Saturday night at Charlotte, while Drummond went through Friday’s morning shootaround after going through his first full practice on Thursday and says he feels “great.”

The Pistons left Miami feeling a little better about themselves, the loss aside, than they have in the aftermath of recent losses that left them muttering about lack of focus and effort. In the remains of their 10th straight loss, they might have found something within them to make the season’s last dozen games a little more meaningful.