Griffin fuels Pistons comeback that comes up short – and sets up a rockin’ Friday rematch

Blake Griffin scored 37 points but lamented the two late turnovers – one that left Dwane Casey perplexed about the whistle that determined it – in a 2-point loss at Houston
Bill Baptist (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

HOUSTON – As the Pistons inhale the intoxicating aroma of roasting turkeys Thanksgiving afternoon, they’ll be mulling all the possessions that could have made the difference in a two-point loss to the Houston Rockets. Won’t take long for them to get to apply whatever conclusions they derive, either: Houston is Friday’s guest at Little Caesars Arena.

“I’m sure LCA Friday – it’ll be rocking,” Ish Smith said after the 126-124 loss featured a wild finish that saw Blake Griffin’s five 3-pointers in the span of 3:30 peel a 14-point deficit to four.

Grififn finished with 37 points, but it’ll be the nine turnovers – two in the last minute, both with the Pistons trailing by four – that he’ll have a tough time digesting.

“Two turnovers down the stretch killed us,” Griffin said. “Doesn’t matter how many points you score. The big moments – that’s where I’ve got to be better.”

The first turnover came after Griffin’s fifth triple made it 120-116 with 1:26 to play. The Pistons forced a James Harden missed triple – Harden didn’t miss much of anything else, draining all 19 of his free throws in a 43-point, nine-assist outing – and Griffin tried to hit an open Reggie Bullock for a transition wing triple. But Harden anticipated the pass, picked it off and ran the shot clock down before missing another triple.

The second Griffin turnover in the final minute was the one that threatened a case of indigestion for Dwane Casey.

“I’ve got to get an answer on the moving screen they called on Blake,” Casey said. “I’ve never seen that in my career. A guy spins, incidental contact. I’ve been in this a long time. I’ve just got to see it.”

Griffin was outside the top of the 3-point arc and about to execute a dribble handoff when contact was created. It was ruled an offensive foul on Griffin with 21 seconds left, forcing the Pistons to foul and giving Houston – which hit 33 of 36 free throws – a six-point lead.

Griffin was asked if, like Casey, it was a call he’d ever witnessed.

“No, I can’t say that I have,” he said. “If somebody’s running at me and I’m dribbling at them, most of the time the guy with the ball is not going to be called for a foul unless you push off or something like that. I don’t know. It’s kind of the way the night went for us.”

And that, too, explains in a roundabout way how it came to be that Griffin wound up taking five fourth-quarter triples. With Houston following its blueprint of switching everything, Griffin for three quarters tried to exploit the mismatches created on pick and rolls. But Griffin was 4 of 14 from the field after three quarters, 3 of 10 inside the arc. He was 9 of 10 at the line, but the sentiment was that Griffin got fouled enough to at least match Harden’s 19 free throws, not the 15 he took.

“You see how the game’s being called and then you play accordingly,” Griffin said. “I thought that’s what we were trying to do – that’s what I was trying to do – but it didn’t really turn out that way. Any time you go to the hoop, I felt like they were going to the free-throw line and there for a while, a stretch in the third, it didn’t seem like that was the case for us.”

The third quarter is where Houston seized control, opening with a 7-0 run to erase a one-point halftime deficit. The Rockets hurt the Pistons in pick and roll, as well, with center Clint Capela especially taking advantage of Andre Drummond’s foul trouble – he was limited to 16 minutes over the first three quarters, finishing with 20 points and 11 boards – in a 27-point, 15-rebound, four-block performance.

“Third quarter, they got rolling a little bit,” Smith said. “We kept fighting, kind of eliminated it in the fourth quarter and it allowed us to get back into the game. Just a little bit of a slip up in the third quarter and they played with great pace.”

Casey saw lots he liked, mostly the grit the Pistons all night and especially after falling behind by 14 with 5:30 left.

“The guys left their hearts out there on the floor,” he said. “We cut down on some of our own mistakes – key, key things. In close games, when you’re playing the top teams, you can’t have ‘my bads.’ We’re learning. We’re getting better. We continue that fight each night and we’re building that consistency is what I like.”

But it was straying from the defensive game plan to chase shooters that Casey preferred not be chased that opened the door for Houston to score 30 or more points in three of four quarters and shoot 56 percent.

“What hurt us was our lack of discipline,” Casey said. “Not staying at home, getting sucked in. Unnecessary help was what we call it. There are certain shots we want them to take and some we don’t and we got undisciplined a few times, got sucked in. We’ll clean that up come Friday night.”

LCA, as Ish Smith says, it’ll be rocking.