Suns Sink Pistons

Detroit goes cold in fourth quarter as Phoenix gets a needed win


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

WHITE HOT – Eric Bledsoe’s 3-pointer with 3:22 to play broke a tie and gave Phoenix the lead for good Friday night as the Suns handed the Pistons their 12th straight road loss, 98-92. The game was close throughout. The Pistons trailed by one at halftime when Phoenix opened with a 14-3 run to take the only double-digit advantage of the game, but the Pistons answered back to tie the game with a 14-2 run. Rodney Stuckey scored nine straight Pistons points early in the fourth quarter to give them a four-point lead. But Stuckey, like the rest of the team, cooled off down the stretch. He missed 6 of 7 shots after making 9 of 12. Stuckey finished with 23 to lead the Pistons, who made 7 of 23 in the fourth quarter. Bledsoe led Phoenix with 23 and backcourt partner Goran Dragic added 20.

BLUE COLLAR – Andre Drummond was back in the lineup after injuring his neck early in last Saturday’s loss to Indiana. It took him a little while to start making an impact, but he had stretches of dominant rebounding and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds in 37 minutes. Drummond and Rodney Stuckey hooked up for two second-quarter lob dunks as the Pistons hung close to Phoenix. Drummond got stronger as the game went on, grabbing 10 rebounds in the second half.

RED FLAG – How much has free-throw shooting hurt the Pistons this season? You could make the case they’d be a playoff team if they were just an average foul-shooting team. The Pistons rank 30th and shoot .671 from the line. If they shot the league average (.756), they’d have 146 more points this year, up 2.2 points per game. That would make their scoring differential minus-0.8, which would be almost exactly in the middle of the league at 16th among 30 teams. They’re 23rd instead at minus-3.0 per game. Josh Smith (.553), Greg Monroe (.661) and Andre Drummond (.423) have taken nearly half the team’s free throws (822 of 1,716 before Friday’s loss) and they’ve combined to make 55.3 percent of their chances. In Friday’s game, Smith shot 0 of 8 and the Pistons 10 of 26.

PHOENIX – The NBA has become amazingly sophisticated with its intricate analysis of every nuance of the game and development of statistical categories that would make Dr. Naismith’s head swim.

But you don’t need a doctorate degree to figure out what undermined the Pistons on a Friday night in the desert southwest.

“There’s a lot of things you look at that you wish you could go back and correct,” Josh Smith said after the 98-92 loss to Phoenix, Detroit’s 12th straight road defeat. “We just weren’t able to make free throws and we didn’t take care of the basketball like we normally do.”

Those two categories – foul shooting and turnovers – were glaring red welts on the game’s box score.

The Pistons have been dead last in the NBA in free-throw shooting all season, but they sunk to new depths against the Suns, making just 10 of 26. If they make their average – about two of every three free throws – they probably win the game and deal the Suns a heavy blow in their playoff pursuit.

“I thought there were two major things,” John Loyer said. “One, we turned the ball over 19 times for a team that averages 12 turns (since Loyer took over) and the majority of them were unforced. And then we go 10 for 26 from the line. We’re not asking you to make all of ’em, but you shoot your percentage, that’s a totally different ballgame. Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t. It’s not for lack of trying and it’s not for lack of preparation. They just didn’t go in tonight.”

Eventually, it got contagious. Phoenix opened a 12-point lead early in the third quarter – the Suns led by one at halftime – but the Pistons answered back to tie the game, eventually trailing by two to start the fourth. Then Rodney Stuckey rattled off nine straight Pistons points and they led by four.

When Stuckey cooled off – he missed six of his last seven shots after hitting nine of his first 12 – so did the Pistons, who shot 29 percent in the fourth quarter. But the Suns left the door open by missing half of their 14 foul shots in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons might have made them pay for that, but they committed five fourth-quarter turnovers and hit 5 of 11 foul shots themselves in the quarter.

“It’s about us missing free throws and turnovers,” Stuckey said. “That’s pretty much what it was. We missed a lot of free throws today and we turned the ball over. I think if we limit those two things, we would have won the game.”

Nobody had a rougher go at the line than Smith, who sullied what would have been a big game – he finished with 15 points and 10 boards – by missing all eight of his free throws, including all three when he was fouled while shooting a triple in the second half.

“You do start to think about it a little bit, but you have to try to stay positive,” Smith said. “But it is a little frustrating. You’re doing everything right technique-wise and it’s just not falling.”

Loyer lauded the effort the Pistons poured into the game against a Suns team that entered the game one game back of surging Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West.

“I played some guys some pretty big minutes, long stretches of time,” Loyer said. “We had some guys step up. If anybody’s disappointed in our guys’ effort tonight, certainly not me.”

That included Andre Drummond, who returned from a brief injury absence and put up another double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds, 10 of them grabbed after halftime, to enable the Pistons a commanding 53-39 rebounding edge and a 16-8 advantage in second-chance points.

“It took him a few minutes to get rolling, but Andre is Andre,” Loyer said. “You roll him out there, he’s going to rebound the basketball, he’s going to hard roll, he’s going to protect the rim and do what he just did tonight. It was very good to have him back.”

Halfway through their four-game road trip, it doesn’t get any easier for the Pistons. They face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, a team that lost Monday at Denver and hasn’t played since then, a game that saw their 11-game winning streak ended.

“We’ve got a really good team coming up tomorrow,” Smith said. “That’s the way to get it out of your memory fast.”