Pistons victimized by another 3rd-quarter letdown, lose 6th straight
TORONTO – We’ll wait another decade or more to close the book on the 2012 NBA draft, when Toronto took Terrence Ross with the eighth pick to set off a wild celebration a few hundred miles to the west around an Auburn Hills conference table tucked in the woods behind The Palace.
The choice of Ross left Andre Drummond for the Pistons, a player around whom Joe Dumars now plots the construction of the franchise.
There will be plenty of time for Toronto – which might not have been in the hunt for a new general manager last spring if Bryan Colangelo had selected Drummond, instead – to rue that night.
But Wednesday wasn’t it.
Ross hit a triple 13 seconds into the second half and then another 59 seconds later to fuel a quick 8-0 Toronto run to open the third quarter, and if you’ve heard that one before, well, don’t congratulate yourself on a remarkable memory. You’ve heard it three times in the last four days if you’ve been paying attention to the Pistons.
In 2014, the Pistons have been outscored at an alarming rate in third quarters, where Memphis, New York and Toronto hold a cumulative 94-48 edge. Toronto quickly turned a four-point halftime deficit into a double-digits lead and went on to a 112-91 win, handing the Pistons their sixth straight loss.
“I think we come out flat,” said Greg Monroe, who had 11 points and nine rebounds at halftime and finished with 11 and 11. “We kind of get into a hole and then we have to try to fight our way through and we start pressing. We have to find a way to come out and take control of those third quarters before the other team does.”
The Pistons nearly dug themselves out of the hole in New York, clawing back from 17 down to have a chance to lead with under 10 seconds to play, but they never threw a scare into the Raptors. After Toronto’s lead hit double digits with 5:45 to play in the third quarter, the Pistons never got closer than eight points again.
“They pushed it down, they got some easy baskets, we had a couple of turnovers and they went on an 8-0 run,” Mo Cheeks said. “I got my first timeout and we never really recovered after that.
“We missed shots. When we miss shots and they push it down out throats, we’re not going to have a lot of fast-break baskets. Early on, we did a great job of pushing the ball up, getting easy baskets, creating some turnovers. Second half, we didn’t do it as much.”
" My main focus is sacrificing for each other. Being able to play unselfishly and hit the open man when he is open. The rest will be history. "
- Josh Smith on drawing from past experience
Full game quotes
The repeated second-half struggles are gnawing at them, of course. They talk about the need to come out of the locker room the aggressor, but the more they talk about it the more it seems to grip them with a certain second-half paralysis.
“It’s hard,” Josh Smith said. “The main thing is we’re consistently losing the same way. We’re showing up for half of a game. We have to be able to try to figure out what we need to do in order to start off better in the second half and be willing to play hard for 48 minutes.”
“Of course guys are upset,” Monroe said. “They’re mad, because we know we should be winning more games. We have to continue to work together and find a way to win.”
The Pistons got a boost from the return of Rodney Stuckey, who’d missed the last three games and five in all with recurring right shoulder pain. But Stuckey started off a little tentatively and wasn’t as automatic with his mid-range jump shot as he’d been before getting hurt last month against Portland.
Stuckey, Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum combined to make 12 of 39 attempts, and with their guards struggling to knock down shots the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontcourt had even less room to operate than usual in the paint.
“When shots are being made, it opens up for everyone,” Monroe said. “That’s how this game is played. When you’re making shots, it’s easier for everyone to score. When shots aren’t falling, then teams will pack it in more.”
That’s the way it’s going for the Pistons, enduring a stretch where Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong, will – appears to rule their domain. Quick example: Toronto made its first 23 free throws.
“It’s testing our will a little bit,” Cheeks said he told the team after the game. “We’ve just got to hang together and keep fighting and it’ll turn for us.”
“My main focus, and the thing I’ve been trying to preach the most, is sacrificing for each other, being able to play unselfishly, hit the open man, and the rest will be history,” Smith said. “We just worry about playing together and not trying to figure anything else out, then that’s when our luck will start to change.”