Snowed Under

Pistons again fail to string wins together, lose to Raptors in game of runs


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons made up all of a 14-point first-half deficit at Toronto and cut an 18-point third-quarter deficit to five entering the fourth quarter, but they could never get over the hump in losing 101-87 to the Raptors. The Pistons, who made up all of their 14-point deficit with a 14-0 first-half run before falling behind by seven at halftime, turned the ball over on four of their first five possessions of the third quarter to enable a 13-2 Raptors run as they took a 65-47 lead. They came back behind a 15-point third quarter from Brandon Jennings to give themselves a chance off of a 17-5 run. But Toronto opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run as the Pistons misfired on their first six shots of the quarter. Jennings finished with 24 for the Pistons, while DeMar DeRozan had 25 for Toronto.

BLUE COLLAR – Ex-Piston Amir Johnson has settled in as Toronto's starting power forward and he hurt the team that made him the 56th pick in 2005 – the last high school player drafted into the NBA. Johnson, in his ninth NBA season, finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot for the Raptors, helping them dominate the Pistons on the glass. Johnson grabbed a team-high five of Toronto ’s 15 offensive rebounds as they finished with a 54-39 edge over the Pistons on the glass.

RED FLAG – The Pistons have ranked as the NBA’s worst free-throw shooting team for most of the season and they might have put their ranking beyond’s anyone reach with Tuesday’s dreadful performance at the line. The Pistons, who came into the game shooting .673 on foul shots, made just 10 of 24. Brandon Jennings was 0 of 4 and Josh Smith 1 of 5.

A three-game winning streak, John Loyer marveled earlier this week, was all that separated the Pistons from perhaps vaulting themselves into a potential playoff berth. But before you can win three in a row, you must win two straight. The Pistons haven’t done so in more than a month now, when a win over San Antonio in Loyer’s debut as head coach gave them that elusive three-game winning streak.

They missed another chance to win consecutive games Wednesday in snowy Toronto . They ran out of comebacks in a game of wild mood swings and now they’re beginning to run out of time to make a comeback in the standings, falling five games back of Atlanta in the loss column for the final playoff spot in the East with 17 games to play after the 101-87 loss to the Raptors.

The Pistons, playing their third game in four nights, looked a half-step slower than they did in Tuesday’s win over Sacramento . Their closeouts on shooters weren’t as crisp, their blockouts when Toronto shots went up not as firm as required, their cuts off of screens sluggish. It was the perfect recipe to produce a big man for the likes of ex-Piston Amir Johnson, who remains the bundle of energy he was when he joined the Pistons out of high school in 2005.

“They made a conscious effort of putting a body on our bigs and they were able to limit us to one shot tonight,” said Josh Smith after a 13-point night on 5 of 17 shooting that typified his team’s missed opportunities. “They’re hard workers, all their bigs. They play hard. They have high motors and we knew that coming in. We weren’t able to match their intensity tonight.”

Certainly not at the start of the game – or the start of the third and fourth quarters.

The Pistons fell 14 points down early, made it up with a 14-0 run, then gave up seven consecutive points and trailed by seven at halftime. A disastrous start to the third quarter – the opposite of 24 hours earlier, when they opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take a six-point lead over Sacramento they wouldn’t relinquish – was the killer, though.

The Pistons turned the ball over on five of their first six possessions of the third quarter. Toronto took its seven-point lead to 18 and Loyer burned two timeouts in the first five minutes.

"We weathered a few storms, didn’t play particularly well but it wasn’t like we were out of the game."

- John Loyer on the third quarter
Full game quotes
“To come out and turn it over the way we did and not get good shots hasn’t been our M.O.,” Loyer said about the team’s 17 turnovers that Toronto converted into 20 points. “We had enough transition possessions and just came up empty on quite a few of them. That number needs to be in the 11, 12 range in order for us to win the game and we didn’t do it tonight.”

Brandon Jennings made it interesting after that, scoring 15 points in the third quarter with the type of hot streak that he and not too many others in the NBA can manufacture, and the Pistons were within five after three.

“We had momentum going into the fourth quarter, but we missed a few shots at the rim early and they made a couple of shots,” said Greg Monroe, who put up 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We hit a cold spell, missed some chippies in the beginning of the quarter right at the rim.”

The Pistons simply had too many glaring weaknesses to win this one. They shot an ugly 10 of 24 at the foul line – Jennings was 4 of 6 from the 3-point line, but 0 of 4 from the foul line – getting outscored by nine from there despite shooting only one less foul shot. Rodney Stuckey, a night after scoring 23 and stabilizing the offense after its shaky start against Sacramento , shot 0 of 6 and went scoreless in 26 minutes. But it was the rebounding numbers and what they said about mind-set that jumped out.

“I thought they dominated us on the boards,” Loyer said of the 54-39 edge Toronto enjoyed. “We’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league and we didn’t consistently block out. We weren’t the more physical team. It led to a lot of second shots and they outcompeted us in the lane tonight.”

“The key was coming out being the aggressor,” said Johnson, who finished with 20 points and nine boards, including five of Toronto ’s 15 on the offensive glass. “We knew they were a great offensive rebounding team – Drummond, Monroe and those guys – so we wanted to box out and have all five guys get on the boards and we did that tonight.”

And every time the Pistons made a push, Toronto pushed back – harder. They ran out of comebacks. They’re also running out of time.