First-half foul fest digs huge hole for Pistons as they fall in Philly
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Saturday afternoon’s 109-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center
FOUL MOOD – Turnabout is fair play, they say. But maybe they should say “foul” play – because foul was the word of the day for this matinee. Andre Drummond got hit with two fouls in the first three minutes and was on the floor only four minutes of the first half before sitting with three fouls. His backup, Zaza Pachulia, got hit with four fouls in 10 first-half minutes. By halftime, there had been a total of 36 fouls called and 54 free throws shot. Blake Griffin scored 50 points when the Pistons beat the 76ers in overtime last week and here’s where we get to the turnabout part. This time, Joel Embiid scored 32 in the first half when he took only nine shots – he made eight, including his only 3-pointer – but went 15 of 17 from the foul line, finishing with 39 points and 17 boards. Somehow the Pistons trailed only 30-24 after one quarter despite committing 11 fouls and five turnovers while shooting 30 percent. But Griffin had played all 12 minutes, sat to start the second quarter and the game quickly spiraled nearly out of control. The Pistons, down 24 in the first half, went on a 13-0 run to start the third quarter to make it momentarily intriguing. The Pistons cut their deficit to nine three times, but Philadelphia answered to push its lead back to 18 three minutes later. They made another stab at a rally in the fourth quarter, coming within 10 with less than nine minutes to play and to six with less than six minutes left and finally to five, forcing a Philadelphia timeout, with 4:47 to play. Griffin was again superb with 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. The rest of the Pistons starters combined for 17 points.
STILL STRUGGLING – The Pistons’ troubles with 3-point shooting weren’t expected to improve without their two best pure shooters, Luke Kennard (shoulder separation) and Reggie Bullock (ankle sprain), out of the lineup. Bullock was considered doubtful after injuring his ankle in Wednesday’s overtime loss at Brooklyn and, sure enough, he sat. Rookie Bruce Brown took his spot in the starting lineup, though he played only six first-half minutes as Dwane Casey needed to put more scoring on the floor as the Pistons quickly fell behind by double digits once Blake Griffin went to the bench to start the second quarter. The Pistons were 3 of 17 from the 3-point arc in the first half and finished 5 of 30. They came into the game ranked 28th in 3-point percentage at .323 and those numbers are heading south. Their two best 3-point shooters for the season had been Griffin (.487) and Ish Smith (.462) but they combined to go 3 of 13 for the game, Smith 1 of 6. Three-point shooting wasn’t the only issue for the Pistons. They were subpar at the foul line – the Sixers hit 44 of 51, the Pistons 28 of 41 – and committed 17 turnovers.
SILVER LINING – Jon Leuer had played just six minutes for the season – the last six minutes of last week’s lopsided loss to Boston – but with both Andre Drummond and Zaza Pachulia in early foul trouble, Dwane Casey needed to turn to Leuer to soak up some frontcourt minutes. And Leuer, who missed the last 74 games of last season with an ankle injury that eventually required surgery and then suffered a knee injury in early August that also required surgery, responded well. Leuer played 22 minutes and finished with six points and seven rebounds. More importantly, he appeared physically confident in his lower body and stuck his nose in the middle of things around the rim. If Leuer is right physically, he gives the Pistons a versatile frontcourt defender who helps offensively in transition and moving the ball. His perimeter shot went astray on him after the 2017 All-Star break and he hasn’t played enough since to regain his confidence, but Leuer has been a good outside shooter – he hit 38 percent from the 3-point arc with Phoenix in 2015-16 before signing with the Pistons – in his previous stops.