Pistons lose a crusher as Clippers come back in final minute, win at the buzzer
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 100-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Little Caesars Arena
WELCOME BACK – Jerami Grant, back in the starting lineup after missing the final three games of last week’s Western road swing with knee soreness, looked like a week off did him good. Grant was bouncy in getting into the paint to do the bulk of his damage, illustrated by the fact he hit 7 of 7 at the foul line. The Clippers, without five of their top scorers, had no one who could stay in front of Grant effectively. And in a game that was dramatically unlike the one these same teams played in Los Angeles three days ago, his scoring seemed like it would be the difference – until the game took a dramatic turn in the final minute. The Pistons took an 11-point lead – the game’s biggest for either side – with just less than five minutes to play, but the Clippers rallied back to tie at 98 with 19 seconds left after a Grant turnover at half-court led to a Reggie Jackson triple. The Pistons failed to get the ball inbounded, Saddiq Bey’s pass deflected and stolen with 15.4 seconds left. And Jackson hit the game winner with 2.8 seconds left, draining a 20-foot jump shot. When the two teams played Sunday in Los Angeles and the Pistons – without Grant’s 22 points a game in the lineup – scored 124, they still lost by seven because the Clippers shot 62 percent and hit 58 percent of their 3-point shots. But neither team had that type of firepower this time around, the Clippers shooting 40 percent and registering only 10 assists and the Pistons shooting 43.5 percent. Very likely as a response to the unconventional lineups the Clippers employed due to having so many players unavailable, the Pistons didn’t use either of their backup power forwards, Sekou Doumbouya or Tyler Cook. Dwane Casey staggered the minutes of Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant so that when Grant sat, Bey played minutes at power forward. Casey used him there as the starter when Grant sat out three games last week with knee soreness and said Bey’s 3-point ability made him a tough matchup for opposing power forwards. Bey certainly has the strength and length – a 6-foot-11 wingspan – to match up against a majority of power forwards in today’s game. He came into the game leading all rookies with 120 made 3-point shots – three more than overall No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards in 61 fewer attempts – and hit 4 of 7 in a 17-point outing.
MINUS 81.3 – That’s how many points per game the Clippers were without as Kawhi Leonard (26.0 points per game), Serge Ibaka (10.9) and Patrick Beverly (8.0) were ruled out with injuries or soreness before game time and Paul George (23.3) was held out to rest after the Clippers played on Tuesday night at Indiana. Ex-Piston Marcus Morris (13.1) was not on the injury report but didn’t suit up or play. Starting for the Clippers were Terrance Mann (four games started this season prior to Wednesday) and Patrick Patterson (two starts) at forward alongside regular starting center Ivica Zubac. Two other ex-Pistons, Reggie Jackson (9.9 points, 31 starts) and Luke Kennard (7.9, 12), started in the backcourt. Jackson led the Clippers with 29 points, hitting 12 of 24 shots and 3 of 6 from the 3-point arc. Kennard didn’t shoot to his usual standards, hitting just 5 of 17 overall and 1 of 6 from three, but he managed 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The Clippers had three veterans with length resumes to bring off of their bench in Rajon Rondo (six points, four assists), Nicolas Batum (seven points) and DeMarcus Cousins (eight points, three rebounds), at least, though they’re all well past their primes due to age or the toll of injury.
EARNING TRUST – Killian Hayes played his fifth game since returning April 3 from the hip injury that caused him to miss 41 games over three months. The Pistons haven’t played Hayes in a back to back since his return, which likely means he’ll sit out in one of the two weekend games. It’s strictly a precautionary move; Hayes appears to be moving without any sign of favoring the right hip that he hurt on Jan. 4, initially diagnosed as a torn labrum but later determined to be a subluxation – a partial dislocation. That was the more favorable outcome, allowing Hayes to avoid surgery and return for the final quarter of his rookie season. If a sign of earning Dwane Casey’s trust, Hayes entered the game with four minutes left in the third quarter and never left. He finished with eight points and six assists. On his first possession, Hayes knifed in front of veteran Rajon Rondo for a steal he converted into a breakaway dunk. His passing remains Hayes’ standout trait and his most memorable assist was a beautifully threaded pass from the wing to Isaiah Stewart under the rim for a dunk in the fourth quarter. But Hayes’ defense is also advanced for a rookie and aided by his size, strength and length.