Not Quite Enough

Pistons can’t flip script on Charlotte in playoff chase after falling down by 19


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

WHITE HOT – Charlotte won the first of a critical back-to-back set with the Pistons in the first game back after the All-Star break, making its first seven shots to open the game and never trailing on the way to a 108-96 decision that drops the Pistons 1½ games behind the Bobcats in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Pistons twice cut their deficit from 19 to eight points in the fourth quarter on Brandon Jennings 3-point baskets but couldn’t get any closer. Charlotte came out hot, making its first seven shots, and never trailed at any point. Al Jefferson carried the load for Charlotte, finishing with 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while showing off his scoring versatility and post savvy. Jennings led the Pistons with 24 points and seven assists, while Greg Monroe added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – Andre Drummond, coming off his 30-point, 25-rebound to win MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend, continued to open eyes across the NBA with his third 20-rebound performance of the season. Drummond finished with 22 rebounds, tying a career high, despite battling foul trouble. The Pistons had just cut their deficit to nine points with 10 minutes to play when Drummond picked up his fifth foul and was forced to the bench. He returned four minutes later and added 16 and two blocked shots.

RED FLAG – Kyle Singler’s move to the starting lineup has meant the bench is down one of the two players it could rely on for consistent production over the first half of the season. So when the other, Rodney Stuckey, struggles then so does the bench. Stuckey shot 1 of 9 in Tuesday’s first half, though there was nothing to quibble about regarding the quality of his shots, and as a result the bench production was limited to six points on 3 of 15 shooting. Stuckey finished with two points on 1 of 11 shooting in 17 minutes. Will Bynum had nine of the 13 Detroit bench points.

When the Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats met on Dec. 20, the Pistons led by 20 in the third quarter and by 14 headed to the fourth. Then Charlotte outscored them 41-17, won by 10 and sent the Pistons into something of a tailspin.

Comebacks like that require a hundred pieces to fall into place, a reality that bit the Pistons hard Tuesday after they went down by 19 in the third quarter.

The return match came nearly two months later with playoff implications unusual for this point of the season. But with likely available postseason berths in the East down to two and the Pistons one-half game behind Charlotte – the teams that came out of the All-Star break sitting eighth and ninth in the conference – even the Pistons weren’t playing the “just another game” card coming into the night.

It might well come down to the Pistons and Bobcats for the final playoff spot. And the Pistons now know one thing for certain: They’ll have to finish ahead of Charlotte in the standings since Tuesday’s 108-96 loss sealed the season series – and subsequently any tiebreaker should the teams finish deadlocked for the eighth seed – for the Bobcats.

“We wanted to treat this game like a playoff game tonight,” Kyle Singler said. “We weren’t there. We need to approach these games as if they are playoff games because they’re important, especially where we are as a team in the playoff race. … We feel awful about it. We feel disappointed and we’ve just got to bounce back and play better tomorrow.”

The Pistons and Bobcats raced each other to the airport after the game for the flight to Charlotte, where they’ll wrap up their three-game season series on Wednesday night with the Pistons resolved to get off to a better start than they managed in the first game back from the All-Star break.

The Bobcats knocked down their first seven shots of the game and it wasn’t until their 11th possession – more than halfway through the first quarter – when the Pistons got a true stop. (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed four straight free throws to produce two empty possessions in that stretch.)

"We have to have energy; we have to play with passion. These are critical games for us."

- Will Bynum on tomorrow's game
Full game quotes
The Pistons trailed by eight at that point, cut it to four before the quarter was over, but were down by double digits from the 11-minute mark of the second quarter to the 10-minute mark of the fourth. They never got closer than eight points, which they managed twice in the final six minutes.

“We didn’t have the same start we had our last two games,” John Loyer said of the three games he’s coached since sliding over one seat to replace the fired Mo Cheeks. “Our energy level didn’t match theirs. You come out and give a team however many they made in a row to start the game – confidence, energy … it puts you in a hole and a good NBA team, and I think they’re a good team, you can’t spot that many points because you almost have to play perfect and have the ball bounce your way down the stretch to win the game.”

That’s what happened for the Bobcats two months ago at The Palace. The Pistons didn’t get every bounce, though, including one that went decidedly Charlotte’s way early in the fourth quarter after the Pistons had cut their deficit to 12. Against a zone defense Loyer brought out to try to slow Charlotte, which shot around 60 percent for the entire game before the zone wrinkle slowed its momentum, Kemba Walker banked in a triple.

“It’s hard,” Will Bynum said of the improbability of coming back from 19 down. “This is an NBA team. They play extremely hard. They play together. … When you find yourself behind like that, it’s tough to get back.”

Al Jefferson bedeviled them, too. He scored 20 in the second half and finished with 32 points, 12 boards and seven assists. On a night Andre Drummond tied his career high with 22 rebounds and all three of Drummond (16 points, two blocks), Greg Monroe (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Josh Smith (12 points, 11 rebounds) recorded double-doubles, it was Jefferson who left the largest imprint on the game.

“He’s a bad matchup for the league,” Loyer said. “He’s a good player.”

Charlotte couldn’t contain Drummond on the offensive boards, where half of his 22 rebounds were claimed, but the Pistons’ failure to get much of anything from the perimeter – or in transition – was damaging. Smith and Rodney Stuckey, two critical pieces of the offense, combined to shoot 6 of 28 with Stuckey’s 1 of 11 especially glaring. Other than Singler’s 3 of 3 from the 3-point arc, the Pistons made only 2 of 13 triples. They shot 13 of 23 at the foul line even though Drummond had only two attempts.

“You can’t push the ball very easily when you’re taking it out of the net,” said Loyer, who has redoubled the focus on creating scoring chances in transition. “A couple of those possessions, we guarded for 24 seconds and they’d score at the end of it. It’s deflating. When you don’t get stops, it’s going to slow your pace down.”

The Pistons know this much: They’ll have to pick up the pace, from the opening tip this time, in the Wednesday rematch.

“It’s good that we’re playing tomorrow,” Loyer said. “I don’t want to sit around and think about this one for a couple of days. Glad we’re playing – and we’ve got to get a win.”