‘Atrocious’ start drags down Pistons in losing 4th straight

Blake Griffin had another monster game against Philadelphia, scoring 38 points to go with the 50 he dropped on the 76ers last week, but the Pistons couldn’t overcome a slow start
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t learn much over the last 11 days when it comes to defending Blake Griffin, but his potency this time around was overcome by a lethal combination of factors outside of his control.

Griffin scored 50 points in an overtime win over the 76ers last week and came back to hit them with 38 in the rematch. But all that did was get the Pistons close after a horrific start to a game that would have had to have half as many fouls called to get the pace up to the level of “choppy.”

“I don’t even understand how the game was called in the first half,” Dwane Casey said after the 109-99 loss – the Pistons’ fourth straight, dropping them to 4-4 – in a rare Saturday matinee. “That’s hard to get used to. There were so many whistles, both ways, that it’s hard to get a feel as a player, as a coach, to see what’s going on. Have to look at the tape and see.”

He’d better block out a good chunk of time. There were 54 free throws shot – more than in a typical NBA game – in the first half alone, when 36 fouls were whistled.

For the Pistons, those fouls were unfortunately focused on their big men. Andre Drummond picked up two in the game’s first 2:40, came back to start the second quarter and lasted all of 1:42 before picking up a third foul. Zaza Pachulia replaced him and got hit with four fouls in less than 10 first-half minutes.

All of that enabled Joel Embiid to take 17 first-half free throws on his way to a 32-point half in which he attempted just nine shots, making eight.

“It’s almost like you’ve got to play with your hands behind your back,” Drummond said after scoring eight points to go with nine rebounds in less than 21 minutes. “Can’t really touch nobody. But that’s the way they’re calling the game now, so I’ve got to figure a way to adjust to try to stay in the game. It’s hard to play like that.”

The Pistons wound up having 32 fouls called against them to 31 for the 76ers. And for all the ills of the Pistons on this day – their continued dreadful 3-point shooting, the start Casey called “atrocious,” the foul trouble – if they’d have matched Philadelphia’s free-throw accuracy they could have won.

The Pistons made just 68 percent of their 41 free throws while the 76ers drained 86 percent of their 51. In a 10-point game, Philadelphia outscored the Pistons by 16 at the free-throw line.

Playing without both Luke Kennard (separated shoulder) and Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) – the two best pure shooters on a team in dire need of perimeter shooting – the Pistons came into the game ranked 28th in 3-point shooting and will be challenging for the bottom rung after a 5 of 30 outing.

Griffin hit two of their five triples. The rest of the team was 3 of 23.

“It’s tough,” said Langston Galloway, who was 1 of 3. “We’re kind of predicated on the three, but I’m just proud of the guys. … Guys are putting more pressure on themselves rather than on everybody else. Everybody’s cheering each other on, regardless. Just staying one shot at a time.”

The Pistons hung close for a quarter despite the onslaught of fouls, trailing just 30-24 as Griffin scored 11. But when he went to the bench to start the second quarter, the deficit swelled to 24. It was 69-47 at halftime, but the Pistons opened with an 11-0 run and a noticeably different body language.

“We held them to 27 percent in the second half, which is a hell of an effort defensively for us,” Casey said. “But our starts have been atrocious. Our approach to start the game has to be here. We come out in the first half the way we came out in the second half, we’re a pretty good team.”

The Pistons eventually cut the deficit to five with 4:49 to play, but in a key sequence just before then – trailing by 10 – the Pistons had back-to-back possessions that produced wide-open 3-point shots that Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson missed.

“Great looks,” Casey said. “Missed 13 free throws, also. All those things added together and injuries are part of the NBA. Guys hurt, please hurry up and get well, but we can’t think about it. The guys that are in uniform have to come in and do their job. That’s the most important thing. Coaching staff, players in uniform, we all have to do our jobs.”

At 4-4 after alternating four-game streaks to open the season, the Pistons next play on Monday when they host Miami.

“We’re back to even,” Galloway said. “We’ve got to dig ourselves out of this losing streak and get back on track.”