Free throws, fourth-quarter drought, Lamb’s bomb doom Pistons as they fall in Charlotte
Streeter Lecka (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 108-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center
CRUNCH-TIME DROUGHT – Just when it looked like the Pistons were about to snap a five-game losing streak, Kemba Walker happened – and the Pistons broke down on offense. Leading by 10 points with 6:23 to play after a Jose Calderon basket, the Pistons went scoreless over their next nine possessions as Charlotte went on a 13-0 run that wasn’t snapped until Andre Drummond’s layup with 36 seconds to play and his free throw to tie completed the three-point play. Walker, who scored 12 of his 31 points in the last six minutes despite shooting 4 of 18 through three quarters, split a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left. Blake Griffin, who returned from a one-game rest to lead the Pistons with 26 points, then missed two free throws with 23 seconds to play. Jeremy Lamb split a pair with 21 seconds to play, giving Langston Galloway the chance to tie when he was fouled 35 feet from the basket with 15 seconds left. He drained both shots, but Lamb’s long 2-point jumper – after he had to lunge to save Walker’s pass – with three-tenths of a second left won it for the Hornets. Galloway hit a technical free throw shot assessed for Charlotte spilling onto the floor, but the Pistons had no timeouts and Griffin’s long inbounds pass was intercepted. It looked like the Pistons were not only heading for a sixth straight loss but a resounding one when Charlotte gashed them for 37 first-quarter points and took a 12-point lead. But the Pistons defense stiffened in the second quarter, they closed to within five by halftime and then a dominant 38-22 third-quarter advantage put them ahead by 11 points entering the fourth quarter. Dwane Casey showed enormous faith in his second unit – despite producing just four points on their first eight possessions of the fourth quarter – by keeping Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond on the bench until 6:23 remained. When they returned, the 11-point lead had been trimmed by just one point. But that’s when their offense went into a funk and Walker heated up, hitting a pair of triples to really fuel Charlotte’s momentum. The Hornets used a huge edge in free throws – 26-10 through three quarters, 37-21 at the end – to stay close.
INCHING TOWARD HEALTH – The Pistons added one back from the injured list in the loss at Charlotte: Stanley Johnson, who’d missed the last three games with a knee contusion, returned and had five points, five rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. Still missing: Reggie Bullock – Dwane Casey says he expects Bullock to be ready to play on Saturday after missing five games with his second sprained left ankle of the season – Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III and Henry Ellenson. Robinson and Ellenson both suffered sprained ankles in Monday’s loss at Philadelphia. Both had MRIs on Tuesday and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Last season, Johnson sat out at three separate junctures with core muscle injuries and struggled to get back in rhythm when he would return. After missing three games in November, he came back in scored just five points in his first two games back over 43 minutes, shooting 2 of 11. He missed eight games from late December into January and then went 16 of 44 over his first five games before embarking on his best stretch of the season. When Johnson missed two games in early March, he scored just eight points over 48 minutes in his first two games back, shooting 3 of 12.
HOT HANDS – One of the curious things about the Pistons season – and one that getting and staying healthy could well remedy – is how they rarely seem to have more than one of their corps of wing players have an efficient scoring night. When Luke Kennard had a career-high 28 points at Philadelphia on Monday, Langston Galloway – coming off a season-high 24 points against New Orleans – scored one point. Galloway got it going to help spark a Pistons second-quarter comeback at Charlotte, scoring nine first-half points en route to 17, but Kennard missed his first five shots and didn’t score until the last possession of the first half when he hit a triple. Kennard finished with six points in 25 minutes. But with Reggie Jackson hitting 4 of 11 from the arc and Blake Griffin hitting 3 of 6, the Pistons had one of their better shooting nights, shooting .465 overall and .382 from the arc in 34 attempts.