Too Far to Climb

Pistons spot Houston 21-point early lead, come up short on the road


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

WHITE HOT – Houston shot 71 percent in a 41-point first quarter to take a 21-point lead and coasted to a 118-110 win over the Pistons, who fell a season-worst 13 games under .500. The Pistons trailed by 25 points in the second quarter, rallied back within 13 late in the third quarter and to 10 with more than five minutes to play. After Houston re-established a 16-point lead on two Patrick Beverly triples, the Pistons rallied back within seven points with two minutes left but couldn’t come any closer. Terrence Jones led six Rockets in double figures with 22 points and 10 rebounds. James Harden added 20 points and 12 assists. Andre Drummond picked up his 43rd double-double of the season with 16 points and 17 rebounds. He posted eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the first nine minutes of the third quarter before sitting with his fourth foul.

BLUE COLLAR – When Kyle Singler picked up two fouls less than 90 seconds into the game, John Loyer summoned Rodney Stuckey off the bench. He stayed out to start the second quarter, but when Singler picked up a third foul less than two minutes into that period Loyer didn’t have the luxury of getting Stuckey any rest. He wound up playing the last 23 minutes of the first half straight. Stuckey finished with a team-best 23 points, making 10 of 17 shots, in 38 minutes.

RED FLAG – The Pistons couldn’t translate the urgency they expressed in words about the need to start piling up some wins before the playoffs slip from their grasp into action with a lethargic break from the gate. The ease with which Houston scored early in the game was alarming. The Pistons came into the game four games down in the loss column to Atlanta, which currently occupies the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

HOUSTON – Here’s what happened in the first three minutes on a deflating Saturday night: two Kyle Singler fouls, three Houston Rockets dunks, two Pistons turnovers, a Houston triple, a Pistons timeout and a double-digits deficit.

Even given the inevitable momentum swings contained within seemingly every NBA game, this one’s fate appeared sealed just that fast.

Houston led 41-20 after a first quarter in which the Rockets dunked eight times on their way to 13 dunks and 11 layups for the game. The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first quarter, 17 of 24, though 12 of those 17 baskets were either dunks or layups.

“I told our guys, we played harder in practice yesterday (than) for the first 24 minutes,” John Loyer said after the 118-110 loss. “We had more juice, more energy running the three-man weave than we did playing here. Really, our first half, we didn’t play with the energy, the enthusiasm, the desire you have to play at to play against any NBA team, let alone a high-level team like Houston.”

Remarkably, the Pistons managed to make Houston sweat before it was over. They cut it to 14 in the third quarter and to 10 with 5:41 to play. But Patrick Beverly hit consecutive triples at that point to push it back to 16. Again the Pistons charged, getting it to seven with under two minutes to play. But the climb was too steep from a thoroughly dispiriting first quarter.

“It was a frustrating game,” said Singler, who got tagged with his third foul two minutes into the second quarter and was limited to just three first-half minutes and 23 for the game. “Not just for me, but for the whole team, coming out the way we did, spotting them however many points. It just wasn’t a good game.”

"In the first half, we didn’t play with the energy, enthusiasm, or desire you have to play at to play against any NBA team."

- John Loyer on the first half deficit
Full game quotes
The size of the hole the Pistons dug for themselves in the first quarter now resembles the challenge that faces them in their quest for a playoff berth. The Pistons fell to 23-36 with 23 games to play, 14 of them on the road.

“I’m sure they’re aware (of the situation),” Loyer said. “We’ve got smart guys. They look at the standings, they look at the situation. This is our livelihood, this is our life. We know where we’re at. We know where we need to get to. You strive to do it every day. These guys are basketball junkies. They know what’s going on.”

What went on in the first quarter, though, nobody really had an explanation for that. The Pistons played into Houston’s hands by taking some hurried shots, allowing the Rockets to get a dozen first-quarter points in transition. Even that might undersell it; a number of Houston baskets came early in possessions with the Pistons still scrambling to find their matchup.

“It’s something that we have to find a way to control,” Monroe said of the sluggish start, which also put the Pistons in a bad situation in the opener of their two-game foray into Texas on Wednesday at San Antonio. “The same way the last game in the first quarter, the other team came out and blitzed us and we were fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the game. It’s always going to be tough.”

“They got stops,” said Singler, who watched helplessly from the bench as the game snowballed on the Pistons. “Our shots led to their easy transition buckets. If we look at the film and if we can take better shots, that might help us. But I think us missing quick shots and they were able to get out in transition and they were tough to stop. If we make a few of those buckets, they don’t get those baskets in transition.”

The demoralizing opening quarter overshadowed superb performances from Rodney Stuckey and Andre Drummond. Stuckey came on for Singler less than two minutes into the first half and stayed on until halftime. He finished with a game-high 23 points, hitting 10 of 17 shots and scoring 11 in the fourth quarter to give the Pistons a fighting chance. He led the final charge, scoring three straight baskets as the Pistons cut it to seven.

Drummond put up a much better fight against Dwight Howard than he did in a December loss at The Palace when Howard scored 37 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Drummond had 12 points and 13 boards in the second half to finish with 16 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots. Howard had 17 points and eight rebounds.

“We didn’t give him much (defensive) help in the first half,” Loyer said of the matchup. “You try to scheme and do some things and as the game went on, it kind of clicked. Andre’s a young player who’s learning every day. He adjusted a little in the second half and it was a much better second half.”

It was, all the way around. The Pistons scored 64 points and held Houston to 37 percent shooting, outrebounding them 24-18. It was the kind of half that should have produced a win and maybe served as the impetus for a playoff push with the calendar turned to March.

Instead, it ground a little salt into a gaping wound opened by a mystifying first half.

“If there was a simple answer, it wouldn’t have happened,” Loyer said. “Sometimes there’s no simple answer.”