5-game streak ends as Clippers clamp down on Pistons in 4th quarter

Blake Griffin finished with 19 points, but the Pistons lost the battle with his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy remains staunchly enthusiastic about the new weapon he’s acquired, but the Pistons learned Friday night that this is a sword with two edges.

It worked to eviscerate the Brooklyn Nets 48 hours earlier when Blake Griffin took over down the stretch as the Pistons won their fifth straight game since getting him from the Los Angeles Clippers 11 days ago. But they caught the other side of it Friday night when Griffin’s ex-team shackled the Pistons in a 15-point fourth quarter to pull away for a 108-95 win.

So the five-game winning streak might have fooled Pistons fans into thinking there’d be no learning curve, but Van Gundy fretted otherwise. It didn’t help any when Friday’s snowstorm forced cancellation of the morning shootaround. The scoreboard since Griffin arrived is five games played, two practices.

No wonder Van Gundy was envious of counterpart Doc Rivers, who got two days of practice for Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley before their first game and two more practices before playing the Pistons.

“We just didn’t play well,” Van Gundy said. “I said that before the game and I’ll stick to it – we’re not functioning smoothly offensively. We’re all in it together but I’ve got to get that figured out on how we’re going to play because it was just standing around tonight and that’s not going to get it done.”

There’s a balance to be found between exploiting Griffin’s one-on-one ability while still encouraging ball and player movement – the things that formed the foundation of the retooled offense Van Gundy installed over last off-season. That balance was nowhere to be seen during a fourth quarter that saw the Pistons shoot 5 of 19 and commit four of their nine turnovers. At one point their went seven straight possessions without a point.

“I thought we’d done a pretty good job for the most part, at times, of moving the ball (before Friday) even though we had some iso situations,” Griffin said. “I just thought tonight, it got a little stagnant. That’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job of reading that and knowing to get the ball to the other side and help the offense move better.”

The outcome might have been a little different – and the offense wouldn’t have seemed quite so stale – if Griffin and Andre Drummond had made another handful of shots from their many chances at or near the rim. But Griffin shot 7 of 19 and Drummond 5 of 15.

“I got great looks. I just missed easy shots,” Griffin said. “But those will go down if we’re getting to the paint and getting the shots we want. Sometimes they just don’t go in. I’ve played long enough to know that. You just have to have a short memory and keep going. Tonight it just didn’t go our way.”

The other troubling stat of the night – and maybe influenced by the lack of movement offensively – was the 57-40 advantage the Clippers held on the backboards despite Drummond’s 17 rebounds.

“Just toughness,” Reggie Bullock said. “They were just killing us on the boards.”

Bullock, who thrives on off-the-ball movement, broke loose for 16 first-half points and hit 5 of 9 from the 3-point arc for the game. But the Clippers began switching on every screen in the second half and that resulted in Bullock only getting two shots after halftime. He finished with 19 points. His teammates hit 5 of 22 from the arc. Griffin was 1 of 7 and Langston Galloway 0 of 4.

“Even though we’d been winning, we have that dilemma that we’ve got to figure out,” Van Gundy said. “How are we going to balance getting Blake the ball and not just be a team that’s standing around watching. We had absolutely no ball movement, particularly down the stretch in the fourth quarter. We had no ball movement at all and no player movement – probably even worse than ball movement. It was just a stand-around quarter and so every play was one on one and an isolation. Not just Blake; other guys. It was just one-on-one basketball, very bad basketball.”

It was a costly night for the Pistons, who saw the three teams ahead of them in the standings – Indiana, Miami and Philadelphia – all record wins. After a travel day on Saturday, the Pistons finish the pre-All-Star break portion of the schedule with three games in four days.

“We just didn’t play well down the stretch,” Griffin said. “I didn’t really expect to go 33 and 0 coming in, so we’ve just got to work and be better. It’s something that’s easily fixable. This is one loss.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Friday night’s 108-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Little Caesars Arena

1-ROUND ONE – It had to end sometime. The Pistons, 5-0 since last week’s trade for Blake Griffin, had their winning streak snapped by Griffin’s old team, which now includes Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. Griffin, who missed his first four shots, finished with 19 points but experienced tough luck on several shots in the deep post that wouldn’t fall, finishing 7 of 19 from the floor. It was a similar story for Andre Drummond, who came up short on perhaps a half-dozen hook shots and finished 5 of 15 shooting. The Pistons were also hurt on the boards as the Clippers finished with a 57-40 edge and limited the Pistons to only seven offensive rebounds and a mere three second-chance points. Avery Bradley scored four of his team’s first 12 points, making his first two shots, finishing with 10 and chipping in with eight rebounds. The Clippers used Bradley as Stan Van Gundy often did – to guard the opposition point guard, Ish Smith in this case. Tobias Harris, guarded by Stanley Johnson, hit back to back triples in the third quarter to finish a 10-2 Clippers run that erased an eight-point Pistons lead. Harris finished with 12 points and eight boards. Super sub Lou Williams led the Clippers with 26 points. A 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter put Los Angeles ahead and the Pistons – who went seven straight possessions without a point during one stretch – scored only 15 fourth-quarter points and shot 5 of 19.

2-BULLOCK BOMBS – For all the fuss about Blake Griffin facing the Clippers after nine years with the franchise or Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley’s return to Little Caesars Arena 11 days after being traded, the player with history on both sides who made the BIGGEST impact might have been Reggie Bullock. He hit 5 of 9 from the 3-point arc and scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half. Drafted 25th overall by the Clippers in the 2013 draft, Bullock spent 1½ seasons in Los Angeles before being dealt to Phoenix, where he finished out the 2015 season. He was a throw-in to the Marcus Morris trade with the Pistons later that summer and had to earn a roster spot in training camp. He came into Friday’s game shooting 45 percent from the 3-point arc for the season, No. 2 in the NBA. Bullock’s progression was evident on the last possession of the third quarter when the ball found him in the corner with about five seconds to play. Closely guarded, he put the ball on the floor and drove baseline, flicking the ball out to the right wing to an open Anthony Tolliver who drained a triple to put the Pistons ahead by three points entering the fourth quarter.

3-DEADLINE DEALS – One of the two players the Pistons acquired at Thursday’s trade deadline was in uniform and available to play against the Clippers. Jameer Nelson arrived, passed his physical and was ready to go, but James Ennis’ flight was sent back to Memphis due to Friday’s snowstorm. He’ll now meet the Pistons on Saturday in Atlanta and undergo his physical examination there. Both trades serve the purpose of giving the Pistons the wing depth they lacked after trading Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to Los Angeles last week for Blake Griffin. Langston Galloway will remain Ish Smith’s backup at point guard for now, Stan Van Gundy said, but he now has the luxury of playing him off the ball if he chooses with Nelson offering depth at point guard. And Ennis, at 6-foot-7, will provide protection against an injury to one of Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson or Luke Kennard. Van Gundy said he was concerned about wearing those three down. While Nelson won’t go immediately into the rotation, Van Gundy said, Ennis might see spot minutes fairly soon. But the Pistons won’t have any more practices after Saturday’s in Auburn Hills, before their flight to Atlanta, until after the All-Star break given that they’ll play three games in the four days leading into the break.

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