Turnaround Hurts

Pistons squander 20-point lead as Charlotte pulls away in 116-106 win


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

WHITE HOT – One game after coming back from 21 down on the road to win, the Pistons squandered a 20-point lead to lose to the undermanned Charlotte Bobcats. The Pistons still led by 18 with one minute left in the third period, but Charlotte opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run and got a huge fourth quarter from Al Jefferson, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the quarter. Charlotte guards Kemba Walker (34) and Gerald Henderson (22) kept the Bobcats close until then, scoring 49 points combined on 18 of 27 shooting and 13 of 14 foul shooting through three quarters.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons signed Josh Harrellson as their No. 3 center because they believed his skill set – especially as a big man capable of shooting at the 3-point line – was the best complementary mix with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. So far, so good. Harrellson has pushed his way into the rotation and had a huge first-half, giving the Pistons 12 points, four rebounds and an assist for a Josh Smith dunk in 11 minutes.

RED FLAG – The Pistons’ inability to hang on to fourth-quarter leads at home continues to haunt them. They led by 13 early in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime to Portland in their most recent home game, but the Blazers came to town as the best team in the Western Conference. Losing to a Charlotte team which didn’t have starting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to start the game and then lost his replacement, Jeff Taylor, one minute into the game with an Achilles injury puts this loss in a completely different category.

The juxtaposition of the last two Pistons games neatly encapsulates their potential, their failings and their stage of development. Two nights after flexing their muscles to come from 21 down to win on the road against a team with the same record, the Pistons squandered a 20-point lead and lost to a team also from the Eastern Conference’s vast middle class.

For all of the exhilaration and swagger they took from their win over Boston, there was that much soul searching and doubt to endure after melting down at home against Charlotte.

“We just lost focus,” Brandon Jennings said in a somber Pistons locker room. “It happened so fast. I really don’t know what to say. It’s kind of unbelievable what just happened.”

The Pistons led by 18 with a minute to play in the third quarter. They led by 14 after three, when it felt like Chauncey Billups’ missed three at the quarter buzzer left the door cracked slightly ajar for a Charlotte team that had stayed on the fringes of contention to that point thanks to the insanely efficient production of its backcourt, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.

Will Bynum opened the fourth quarter by missing a layup. Ramon Sessions answered with a jump shot to make it a 12-point game. Bynum missed a short jump shot and Bismack Biyombo responded with his only basket of the game to cut it to 10. The Pistons turned it over and Cody Zeller got a dunk in transition.

By the time Steve Clifford brought his horses back with 8:15 to play, the Bobcats were within five points. A game the Pistons had never trailed, and led comfortably from late in the first quarter on, suddenly felt in real peril.

“It just kept steamrolling and steamrolling,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Once they got into that rhythm, we just couldn’t stop them. They just kept going.”

"We just lost focus. It happened so fast, I really don’t know what to say. It’s kind of unbelievable what just happened."

- Brandon Jennings on the loss
Full game quotes
Jefferson, perhaps the best back-to-the-basket scorer left in the NBA, scored 15 points in those final eight minutes, making 7 of 11 shots. Andre Drummond, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds, had been the primary defender on Jefferson to that point. But Cheeks opted for Monroe, the more experienced defender, down the stretch.

“I thought Greg was a better defender on him,” Cheeks said. “He’s guarded him a few times before and I thought he was a better defender. And at that time, it probably didn’t matter who was guarding him because he got into a little rhythm and once an offensive player like him gets into a rhythm, you’re either going to double him or give some threes or nothing.”

As Charlotte’s offense soared, the Pistons ground to a halt. Charlotte finished the game on a 45-17 run. The Bobcats hit 16 of 24 shots in the fourth quarter and outrebounded the Pistons 16-7 after Detroit dominated the boards through three quarters (37-27).

“Just losing focus, not trying to dominate your opponent, playing with the game,” Jennings said. “If you play with the game, the game will get you back. That’s basically what it did to us tonight. It’s just funny. We finish games better on the road than we do at home. Usually, you would think it’s the opposite.”

The Pistons lost a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and fell in overtime the last time they played at home, five days earlier against Portland. They responded by handing Indiana its first home loss 24 hours later, then won at Boston. They’re now 7-6 on the road, but just 6-9 at home.

“You relax a little bit and think the game – it’s not over, but if you make a shot here or there it could be in our favor. And it was,” Cheeks said. “We just have to learn. We’ve got to learn how to figure it out.”

Drummond expects the Pistons to respond against Houston on Saturday night at The Palace just as they did at Indiana on Monday. But he admitted it won’t be easy to brush aside handing a 20-point lead back to Charlotte on their home floor.

“We’ve got to stick with what we do,” he said. “We tend to get relaxed in the fourth quarter when we get a lead and we gave it away. That’s really what it comes down to. We gave away the game tonight. It’s tough to swallow, but we’ve got to move forward.”