Griffin’s 45 not enough as Pistons fall at OKC, but Miami’s loss means they’re still in playoff spot
Three quick observations from Friday night’s 123-110 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena
NOT ENOUGH HELP – With the Pistons struggling to generate offense from anyone other than Blake Griffin, they somewhat remarkably traded punches with an engaged Oklahoma City team – in a tussle with San Antonio for the No. 7 seed, motivated by avoiding a first-round playoff date with Golden State – for three-plus quarters. But the combination of no one but Griffin – returning with 45 points after missing the last three games – doing much offensively and a horrendous disadvantage in rebounding and second-chance points doomed the Pistons. Oklahoma City finished with a 59-32 edge off the glass and parlayed that into a 27-4 edge in second-chance points. Andre Drummond picked up three fouls in just seven first-half minutes and finished with just four points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. Reggie Jackson shot 4 of 14, Wayne Ellington 3 of 12 and Luke Kennard went scoreless, taking just two shots. The only Pistons in double figures besides Griffin were Ish Smith (12), Langston Galloway (11) and Jackson (10). The loss – coupled with Orlando’s win over Atlanta – means the Pistons fell from the No. 6 spot to No. 8. They now have the same 39-40 record as Brooklyn, but lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Nets. One bit of good news: Miami lost at Minnesota, which keeps the Pistons a game ahead of the Heat. Since they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Miami, the Pistons effectively hold a two-game lead on the Heat with three games to play.
BLAKE’S BACK BIG TIME – That could have gone either way – Blake Griffin rested and full of energy or Blake Griffin rusty and out of rhythm. Door number one is the right choice. Griffin scored 17 points – in the first quarter. Then he came back with 14 more in the second for 31 points at halftime in a little less than 19 minutes of playing time. The 31 points in a half tied a Pistons record shared by Grant Hill and Reggie Jackson. Griffin hit 8 of 11 shots in the first half, including 6 of 9 from the 3-point line, and got to the line 10 times, hitting nine. Had to cool off in the second half, right? Not in the third quarter. He hit 3 of 4 shots and went a perfect 3 of 3 from the 3-point arc in the quarter, scoring 13 more points before checking out with three minutes left. Griffin, playing with a heavy brace on the left knee, returned at 9:21 with the Pistons trailing by five points. He shot 0 of 5 in the quarter, splitting a pair of free throws to finish with 45 points and seven rebounds. He hit 11 of 20 shots and 9 of 14 from the 3-point line while knocking down 14 of 16 foul shots.
FEAST OR FAMINE – It’s been feast or famine in first quarters for the Pistons over the last six games – three times scoring 30 or more points, three times scoring 15 or less. The first of their three frigid first quarters came with Blake Griffin in the lineup, their nine-point first quarter at Denver last week. They scored 11 in the first quarter against Portland – coming back to win that game last week – and then 15 in their Wednesday loss to Indiana. They went into Friday’s game expecting a lower-scoring slugfest and while it was every bit the slugfest – a physical game marked by chippy play, including Russell Westbrook’s flagrant foul on Zaza Pachulia – it was the offenses that dictated the flow. Oklahoma City took the No. 4 defense and the No. 18 offense into the game, while the Pistons also have been a better defensive team (12th ranked) than offensive (21st) this season. Paul George scored 30 for the Thunder, who had five others in double figures. Russell Westbrook (19 points, 15 assists) came up two rebounds short of a triple-double.