Rough Road

Spurs singe Pistons from 3, on break to spoil 110-point scoring effort


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons put up a good fight as they began the road-heavy final 25-game stretch of their season, leading San Antonio until midway through the third quarter when a 7-0 Spurs run broke a tie and led to a 120-110 Spurs win in their first home game in 25 days. The Pistons were within seven points with six minutes to play but couldn’t slow San Antonio’s offense down the stretch. Josh Smith scored 18 points in the game’s first 16 minutes and finished with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Pistons, who placed six players in double figures. The Spurs hurt the Pistons with 9 of 19 3-point shooting and 27 fast-break points, including 14 in the third quarter when they scored 33 points. NBA 3-point contest champion Marco Belinelli hit 4 of 4 from the arc to lead San Antonio with 20 points off the bench.

BLUE COLLAR – Andre Drummond had just two points and six rebounds at halftime but he turned it up in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter, when he was dominant on the glass. Drummond finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds and he speared eight rebounds in the final period. It was Drummond’s 42nd double-double of the season. He played 40 minutes.

RED FLAG – Brandon Jennings played 14 first-half minutes, didn’t score, took only two shots and had a single assist. That was a pretty good indication something was up. It was. Jennings didn’t play in the second half due to a sore toe. The Pistons get two days off before playing at Houston on Saturday night. Without Jennings, their options at point guard are Will Bynum and rookie Peyton Siva, though they could use Rodney Stuckey there – as they did when Bynum sat in for a brief rest in the second half – and give more minutes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard behind Kyle Singler.

The championship window might be about to close on the San Antonio Spurs, but they still have some tread on their tires. Off the road after their annual Rodeo Trip, the Spurs broke open a tight game by running the younger Pistons into the ground in the third quarter when they scored 33 points – a whopping 14 of them on the fast break.

To put that into perspective, the Pistons – for whom transition defense has proven troublesome all season – surrender an average of 13.6 fast-break points a game, which is leaky enough to place them 24th in the league. They more than blew their game allotment in that chaotic third quarter alone.

“There were spots really the whole game where they got behind us,” John Loyer said after the 120-110 loss. “I thought when we got our defense set, we were pretty solid. We just gave them way too many layups. A little of it could be fatigue, but you’ve got to look behind you. It takes five guys to get back. We talk about loading to the basketball and there were times we had two or three guys in the backcourt. We just didn’t get back.”

The Pistons traded blows with the Spurs on equal terms for the first 30 minutes and even led most of the second and some of the early third quarters. Will Bynum opened the third quarter on a personal 6-0 run – he took Brandon Jennings’ place in the second-half lineup when Jennings suffered an undetermined toe injury and couldn’t return – and the Pistons had it tied at 71 on a Bynum-to-Andre Drummond alley-oop with 5:34 to play in the third quarter.

Then the Spurs went on a 7-0 run that took exactly one minute and … game over, pretty much.

“Especially if you’re on the road, it hurts a lot,” Kyle Singler said of San Antonio’s rapid-response attack. “But that’s with any team in the NBA. There’s a lot of teams that can go on quick runs. You need to respond, you need to answer with whatever you have. I thought we played hard tonight. We just weren’t able to put together a run ourselves where we could take the lead and sustain it.”

"You find yourself behind throughout the whole game, it’s tough because you know that they’re going to play consistently well throughout the whole game."

- Kyle Singler on playing from behind
Full game quotes
The signature San Antonio play came just a few minutes before that 7-0 burst, a Danny Green transition 3-pointer he sunk in a 1-on-4 situation from a few feet behind the 3-point arc. Not exactly a play John Wooden or Bobby Knight would have endorsed, but it works for the Spurs.

“He’s a great shooter,” Josh Smith said of Green. “Pretty sure they don’t worry about him on (Marco) Belinelli taking those types of shots. As long as they work hard, that’s the main concern.”

The Spurs rank No. 1 in the NBA in 3-point shooting, but when the Pistons beat them in Loyer’s first game as coach a few weeks ago at The Palace they held San Antonio to 5 of 17 from the arc. They didn’t have Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter or Kawhi Leonard in the lineup that night; they all returned for the rematch, Leonard playing his first game after missing 14 with a broken hand, though Tony Parker sat one out.

Belinelli, who won the 3-point competition during the recent All-Star break, was perfect in four tries from the arc to lead San Antonio with 20 points. Eight Spurs reached double figures, four of them off Greg Popovich’s interminably deep bench.

“They’re one of the best-executing teams in the league,” Loyer said. “When you have good pick-and-roll players, you’re No. 1 in the league in 3-point shooting, if they’re not one of the top two or three cutting teams in the league I don’t know who is and they have go-to guys. They’re a good team coached by a great coach. There’s a part in every game when you play them, you’re in it – three, four, five points – and it goes to 11 before you know it.”

The Spurs shot 63 percent in the third quarter, hit 3 of 5 triples and scored eight points off of five Pistons turnovers. Ginobili had nine points, three assists, a steal and blocked shot and Belinelli scored eight points. Together, they made 7 of 9 shots.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” said Smith, who scored 18 points when he first came off the floor five minutes in the second quarter and finished with 24 to lead the Pistons. “That’s a team we can look at as a measuring stick and see what we need to get better and really pay attention to the mistakes we made tonight and see how they capitalize on the mistakes teams make against them and just keep continuing to get better.”

Most of their mistakes were minor ones, but San Antonio’s built an NBA empire by exploiting the smallest of fissures. Nobody makes you pay more dearly for the most innocent miscues. In a heartbeat of the third quarter, it went from a game that looked like it might have ranked with Pistons wins at Miami and Indiana earlier this season to a double-digit Spurs lead.

“Their bigs do a good job at rim running and I think we took a couple of stabs in the backcourt which hurt us,” Smith said. “We had a couple of turnovers they converted into points. That team is a great team. They know how to capitalize on other teams’ mistakes and we turned the ball over a little too much in the second half.”

Not that the Pistons expected it would be any different, but it was a tough way to start the season’s final 25-game stretch, which finds them playing 16 away from The Palace.

“It’s just a matter of getting back and communicating,” Loyer said of the breakdowns that led to defeat. “Sometimes we were back, we just weren’t back far enough. You’ve got to talk it out. We’ll get better at it.”