Execution woes come back to bite the Pistons as they drop 3rd straight in OT loss

Blake Griffin says the Pistons need to clean up their execution errors to prevent games from coming down to do-or-die possessions.
David Bonilla/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW YORK – If you’re looking for a social event where you can beat the traffic and be early to bed, a Pistons game right now probably isn’t for you.

For the fifth time in seven games, the outcome of a Pistons game came down to a final possession. Two of those five games, in fact, saw them come down to the final possession twice – once in regulation, once in overtime.

But the giddy days of last week, when the Pistons were 4-0, have turned to anguished moments over the past five days and an especially wrenching 24 hours that saw them lose by two at Boston and by one in overtime at Brooklyn.

And it’s their mental errors, Dwane Casey and Blake Griffin both say, that are costing them chances to put games away before they come down to do-or-die possessions.

“Nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for us,” Dwane Casey said after the 120-119 loss dropped the Pistons to 4-3. “We were four and oh – nobody was cheering for us. And nobody is going to feel sorry for us if we lose three in a row.”

Casey forewarned the Pistons about dealing with adversity after noticing how it seemed to paralyze them last season as he reviewed videotape of their 2017-18 games. This is the first real bout of it and the NBA schedule isn’t giving them any layups to break their slump. Next up: a Saturday matinee at Philadelphia.

“We’ve got to move forward,” Andre Drummond said. “We’ve got a game on Saturday with a very good team in Philly, so we’ve got to prepare for that game and get ready.”

Whatever adversity they’ve faced so far, they’ve responded encouragingly. After getting smacked at home by Boston, tagging them with their first loss last Saturday, the Pistons took the fight to the Celtics on Tuesday and had a chance to tie or win on a last possession when a communication mishap caused a turnover.

At Brooklyn, the Pistons were not just facing the season’s first back to back but against a team resting the previous night and stinging from its own three-game losing streak. Almost predictably, the Pistons were sluggish out of the blocks and fell behind 27-12 after 15 minutes. And by halftime, they were down another player, Reggie Bullock, who aggravated a left ankle sprain. With Luke Kennard out since last week with a shoulder separation, the Pistons were without their two best 3-point shooters.

But they roared back, thanks to their bench, to lead by halftime. And rookie Bruce Brown, though doing it differently than Bullock or Kennard, did his part to plug the void on the wings.

So it hasn’t been their response to adversity that’s turned their fortunes so much as the odds in a game of chance – situations the Pistons are finding themselves thrust into because of execution errors. The turnover in Boston, missed defensive assignments in Brooklyn. Ex-Piston Spencer Dinwiddie took full advantage, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter – including three 3-pointers in the last three minutes and one that forced overtime with 20 seconds left – and the game-winning triple with 7.1 seconds left in overtime.

“Little mistakes down the stretch,” said Griffin, whose shot at the overtime buzzer to win it from 20 feet fell off the rim. “Those little things come back to bite you. Each game is decided by such a small margin that we’ve got to be better.”

Griffin and Drummond were part of the group that played so listlessly in the first quarter, but both rebounded to put up big numbers. Drummond finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, 20 points and 21 rebounds after the first quarter. Griffin scored 22 of his 25 after the first quarter and hit two big triples down the stretch of regulation and another as part of a personal 7-0 run in overtime to put the Pistons in position to win.

But the last possession didn’t produce the kind of shot the play was designed to yield.

“Low clock, trying to get a little bit of action before that,” Grififn said. “Just didn’t work.”

Reggie Jackson and Griffin ran a pick and roll to try to win it in regulation after Dinwiddie’s tying triple, but Brooklyn jammed up the play and Jackson was forced to put up a contested shot in traffic.

“You can’t dictate what the defense gives you,” Casey said. “You take what they give you. We had our two best offensive players coming off for their shots in our sweet spots. You’ve got to shake their hand. They did a good job of defending it. I’ve got to look at the tape and see if we can get a better shot.”

It was the second time in two seasons Dinwiddie hit the game-winning shot to beat the franchise that drafted him into the NBA.

“That man has a personal vendetta every time we play him,” Drummond said. “He’s trying to let us have it every time we play. Any time he sees ‘Detroit Pistons,’ he comes after us.”

At the same time, Drummond rued his decision not to play Dinwiddie more aggressively on the game winner.

“That switch on to Spencer, I feel like I should’ve got up a little bit more on him,” he said. “I made him feel comfortable.”

“They executed their schemes properly down the stretch,” Casey said, “and we didn’t.”

Griffin sent up a flare last week even as the Pistons were riding high at 4-0 that they needed to be more vigilant about dotting there Is and crossing their Ts. He was visibly frustrated as the game ended.

“This is a game we should’ve won,” he said. “You do get caught up a little bit (in the result), but at the end of the day, it’s execution that’s getting us there. We won in spite of our execution the first three games and then last night and tonight, I thought our execution came back to bite us.”

For the Pistons to bite back at Philadelphia, they’ll need to give themselves a fighting chance first.