Another 21-point hole, another Pistons comeback – but this one falls short

Langston Galloway scored nine points off the bench to give the Pistons a spark, but their comeback fell short against the 76ers .
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – In the early days of the season, games that later are proven to be aberrations seem ominous for the flaws they suggest. So it was in Game 4 for the Pistons, when one of the primary culprits that undermined last season – unimaginably bad 3-point shooting – contributed to a 97-86 loss to Philadelphia.

But Avery Bradley would like a word with his new teammates about letting that worm crawl inside their heads.

A minute after Tobias Harris, on one side of the locker room, lamented the 6 of 30 shooting from the 3-point arc, Bradley, across the way, framed it another way.

“I think I heard Tobias say it would’ve been a different game if we made some shots,” said Bradley, an NBA All-Defense member in the past and one Stan Van Gundy expects to make the Pistons a vastly more consistent and better team at that end. “But it would’ve been a different game if we got some stops, as well.”

Bradley’s tone was one of encouragement, not confrontational, and Harris, by way of full disclosure, also emphasized that the Pistons needed greater defensive resolve no matter their offensive woes.

“It’s something as a team we have to build on and be able to be a defensive-first team and let our defense be a catalyst to our offense,” Harris said. “Second game in a row we haven’t gotten off to a great start. It’s something we have to really have a focus on when we play next.”

About that “second game in a row we haven’t gotten off to a great start” … yeah. Second game in a row the Pistons have fallen behind by 21 points 20 minutes into the game.

They rallied back to beat the Knicks and spoil the Madison Square Garden opener on Saturday, but Philadelphia’s prolonged talent-acquisition “process” – resulting in the accrual of two overall No. 1 picks (Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz) and one woulda-been overall No. 1 pick had it not been for concerns over Joel Embiid’s physical status – had its finest moment this night.

Embiid and Simmons combined to hit 19 of 26 shots with Embiid going for 30 points on 11 of 15 shooting and Simmons chalking up a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

“They’re good – all around,” Harris said. “They played really good basketball tonight. They were able to make shots and play fast. You give ’em credit. They came out here and really showed what they’re about.”

The Pistons, just as they did at New York, shaved their 21-point deficit to 14 by halftime. They pulled as close as three points early in the fourth quarter, saw it balloon back to 10, then used a 6-0 run to get within four points with three minutes to go. But that’s where the comeback stalled as the Pistons lost for the first time at Little Caesars Arena and allowed Philadelphia to avoid a 0-4 start.

“Two games in a row where we just really weren’t ready,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got to figure that out. Whether it’s those five guys changing their mindset or whether we have to change the lineup to get some guys in there who can be ready to go at the beginning of the game, but, yeah, that was disappointing tonight, the start of the game. The whole thing was disappointing, but the start was disappointing in terms of the effort.”

The brick laying was also disappointing, though Van Gundy has no reason to believe the off-season roster overhaul ultimately won’t yield positive results. One of the newcomers brought in primarily for his 3-point prowess, Langston Galloway, lit the fuse to start the comeback in the first half and finished 3 of 4 from deep before departing to get stitches for a cut on the left side of his head.

Van Gundy later lamented not rushing Galloway back into the game. The rest of the roster combined matched Galloway’s three made 3-pointers – in 26 tries. Bradley and Reggie Jackson, the starting backcourt, went 1 of 10 from the arc. Harris and Anthony Tolliver both shot 1 of 6.

Jackson showed more promising signs, scoring 16 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds, but how much different the night might have been if he’d been better than 0 of 5 from the 3-point arc.

“They really just came out and punched us in the mouth,” he said. “Being the leader of this team, I’ve got to lead us and I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to get us off to a better start. Whatever it takes.”

Bradley, the most experienced starter, understands how young teams struggle to prevent offensive misery from seeping into the other end.

“It’s a maturity thing,” he said. “When you miss a shot, you have to go down and three steps in a row. That has to be your mindset as a team. We’ll get there.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 97-86 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Little Caesars Arena

1-21-POINT HOLE, AGAIN – Just as they’d done two nights earlier at New York, the Pistons dug a 21-point hole deep into the second quarter. Just as they’d done at Madison Square Garden, they got a spark from a player they hadn’t used in the first 20 minutes. The Pistons closed the half at New York with a 15-7 run over the final 3:41; it was a 13-5 run over the final 4:07 against the 76ers. Anthony Tolliver sparked the Pistons at New York, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring nine points. This time, it was Langston Galloway who didn’t play the first 20 minutes but entered and quickly hit two 3-pointers after the Pistons opened 2 of 16 from the arc before his entry. The Pistons pulled within three points early in the fourth quarter, fell behind by 10 again and went on a 6-0 run to get within four. But they misfired on three straight possessions and Philadelphia got free throws from Ben Simmons (a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) and Joel Embiid (30 points, 11 of 15 shooting) and a three-point play from Embiid to push its lead back to 11. Moral of the story: You can’t spot the other guy 21 points and expect to win very often. The Pistons held Philadelphia to 41 second-half points and forced 15 second-half turnovers, but they couldn’t generate enough offense, shooting 39 percent overall and 20 percent – 6 of 30 – from the 3-point line.

2-BOMBS AWAY, GALLOWAY – The Pistons wasted no time locking up Langston Galloway in free agency, striking a three-year deal on July 1. The thing that appealed to Stan Van Gundy more than anything was Galloway’s fearlessness in launching threes – well, that and the fact he made 39 percent of them last season, better than anyone Van Gundy had as a part of his regular rotation. A bone bruise in his knee suffered during late July kept him sidelined for more than a month and affected his conditioning. Galloway was held back the first week of training camp and Van Gundy didn’t play him at New York on Saturday – the third game in four nights – because he thought he looked sluggish the night before at Washington. Luke Kennard got first crack at minutes behind Avery Bradley against Philadelphia, but Van Gundy went to Galloway late in the second quarter and gave him plenty of time in the second half. At one point, Galloway was 3 of 4 from the 3-point line and his teammates were 2 of 18. Galloway finished with nine points and missed just one shot in 12 minutes. The Pistons were a plus-17 during his minutes.

3-ROTATION DECISIONS LOOM – Stan Van Gundy says he’d like to get to a little more definition in his rotation by the time the Pistons return from a three-game road trip to California in the middle of next week. They’ll have played eight games by then, roughly 10 percent of the schedule. But Van Gundy isn’t veering from his off-season declaration to use the entire roster. “I’d like to settle and have eight or nine guys you pretty much know are going to be your first guys off the bench every night,” he said. “But then probably have another two guys, maybe three, that are situational-type guys, so they’re not just buried.” He pretty much knows the identity of two players off the bench who’ll play every night: Ish Smith and Jon Leuer. After that, he’ll choose between Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock – whose suspension ends after Wednesday’s game with Minnesota – for backup minutes behind Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson; between Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic, with Leuer another possibility, behind Andre Drummond at center; and between Henry Ellenson and Anthony Tolliver for a role at power forward when Tobias Harris shifts to small forward and Leuer is occupied at center or needs a rest. Leuer got all the backup center minutes against Philly. Tolliver got the call at power forward over Ellenson. Galloway might not have played if not for the struggles of Stanley Johnson – zero points, rebounds or assists; four fouls – and the need to inject some 3-point shooting into the lineup on a night the Pistons sputtered from the arc.

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