Gut-Wrenching Loss

Pistons’ 30-4 run produces 16-point lead, but they fall to Pelicans 103-101


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

WHITE HOT – Eric Gordon scored on a tough runner in the paint with 1.9 seconds left as New Orleans finished off a comeback to beat the Pistons 103-101 Friday night. The Pistons took a 16-point lead on the strength of a 30-4 run that began early in the third quarter when they trailed by 10, but New Orleans finished the game on a 14-5 run to win despite missing four key players. Josh Smith tied the game at 101 when he scored on a put-back with 19 seconds left. Anthony Morrow, playing in his first game since Jan. 15, keyed the New Orleans comeback with 13 fourth-quarter points as he hit 4 of 5 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Brandon Jennings scored 18 points in the third quarter to spark the Pistons. He finished with 28 points. Andre Drummond finished with 21 points and 20 rebounds, his first career 20-20 game.

BLUE COLLAR – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continues an impressive upward trajectory, playing a strong all-around game for the third time in the past four Pistons games. Caldwell-Pope again led the team in minutes played with 41, also the third time in the past four games that’s happened. He finished with 14 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

RED FLAG – The Pistons continue to struggle defensively. New Orleans was missing 57 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists with its four key players – Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans and Jason Smith – out with injury or illness, yet the Pelicans still managed to shoot 64 percent in the first half in scoring 54 points. For the season, no team in the NBA yields a higher home field-goal percentage than the Pistons (47 percent). After holding New Orleans to 17 third-quarter points, the Pelicans scored 32 in the fourth to complete their comeback.

New Orleans won the lottery and took Anthony Davis No. 1 in 2012, then missed by one lousy pick of landing Andre Drummond nine spots later. The Pistons were all that stood between the Pelicans and a draft haul for the ages.

Both 20-year-old franchise cornerstones earned invitations from USA Basketball this week to be among the 28-player pool from which the rosters for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic national teams will be chosen. Both showed why those invitations were fully merited Friday night at The Palace.

Drummond won the battle, but Davis won the war.

Drummond was a dynamo, recording his first career 20 and 20 game – 21 points, 20 rebounds, two blocked shots – but Davis’ Pelicans finished the game on a 14-5 run, he in the thick of it, to erase a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes and win 103-101.

“It doesn’t even matter,” about his 20-20 and string of seven straight double-doubles a clearly downcast Drummond said after the game. “We’ve lost quite a few games, so it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. I don’t even pay attention most of the time. I’d rather win.”

It was a game of crazy twists and turns. The Pistons led by seven in the second quarter, but New Orleans soon went on a 14-0 run and led by six at halftime. The Pelicans stretched it to 10 by making their first two shots of the third quarter, at which point they were shooting an alarming 65 percent despite missing four of their top six scorers, including point guard Jrue Holiday, 3-point bomber Ryan Anderson and sixth man Tyreke Evans.

"I tried to call a time-out and that time-out is on me."

- Maurice Cheeks on not calling timeout
Full game quotes
That’s when the Pistons launched an 18-0 run amid a 30-4 stretch that put them ahead 78-62 with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Pelicans outscored them 41-23 from that point on, an eerily similar scenario to the one that played out two nights earlier when Milwaukee outscored the Pistons 41-25 down the stretch to come from behind and win.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Maurice Cheeks, who yelled frantically for his team to get a timeout after Eric Gordon’s tie-breaking drive with 1.9 seconds left broke a 101-all tie and ultimately proved the winner. “They got back in the game by shooting threes and us missing shots, getting second shots, getting loose balls that kept it alive for them to get some 3-point shots. That was it. I mean, that was it. We’ve been over situations like that and they continue to get loose balls and continue to get second shots.”

Cheeks blamed himself for not properly communicating with the team during the New Orleans timeout called with 19 seconds left after Josh Smith’s rebound and put-back tied the game at 101. The game ended with Brandon Jennings, who scored 16 of his game-high 28 points during Detroit’s third-quarter outburst, firing a 50-footer from beyond mid-court.

“He told us” that the mistake was his responsibility, Rodney Stuckey said of Cheeks’ postgame message to the team. “But as a group, we should know that, too. It’s just not on him. We all should know we had a couple of timeouts left. That’s something we’ll make sure we do next time.”

The Pistons don’t want to believe that they’ve allowed self-doubt to creep into their collective psyche as the string of games in which they’ve surrendered sizable second-half leads mounts. They’ve now lost eight of their last nine games at The Palace and have fallen to 7-15 at home and a season-worst nine games under .500 overall.

“I don’t know,” Stuckey said about a loss of confidence. “We’ve just got to come out and compete for 48 minutes. We sit here and talk about this every day – same questions. We’ve just got to come out collectively and try to play like we did in that third quarter. We came out and wanted to compete. We’ve got to try to do that every quarter.”

“No, we never have doubts,” Drummond said. “We just make poor decisions down the stretch of the game sometimes and we’ve got to get better at it. Nip that in the bud and try to finish games out.”

As it usually happens when teams fall into ruts, New Orleans got everything it needed to have happen do so in the last quarter, including finding a hot hand that belonged to Anthony Morrow. Playing his first game since Jan. 15, Morrow scored 21 points in 24 minutes off the bench. His jumper stopped the 30-4 Pistons run and launched the Pelicans on a 9-0 run of their own that pulled them back within seven late in the third quarter.

Then he hit 3 of 4 triples in the fourth quarter, including one with 1:43 left to pull the Pelicans within a point. Davis, who scored eight of his 14 points and grabbed half of his eight rebounds in the fourth, somehow got a hand on Brian Roberts’ missed jumper with 1:19 to play to give New Orleans its first lead since early in the third quarter.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – who led the Pistons in minutes played with 41, the third time he’s logged the most time in the last four games – was guarding Gordon on the final play. He’d done an admirable job on an explosive scorer all night – Gordon took just 10 shots and finished with 15 points and seven turnovers – but Gordon bulled his way into the paint and scored with a tough finish for the game winner.

“I had no idea what they were going to run, but I thought we gave them a little angle instead of keeping him in front of him,” Cheeks said of the critical play. “He gave a little angle to get inside and make that layup.”

The Pistons know that even though the season just crossed the halfway point, they need to eliminate the mistakes that are costing them valuable wins as they tread water in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We got 39 games left,” Cheeks said, doing his best after a disheartening loss to remain upbeat. “We’ve got a lot of games left.”

“Nobody likes to lose, home or away, neutral site, doesn’t matter where we’re at,” Drummond said. “Nobody likes to lose and losing at home is even worse in front of the home crowd. I know they’re not happy and neither are we.”