Griffin’s return falls flat as Pistons lose to Lakers; ‘We didn’t take anything away’
LOS ANGELES – If Blake Griffin spent any time imagining his first game at Staples Center since the trade that sent him to the Pistons, you can rest assured he didn’t envision it like that.
The Pistons were as flat as they’ve been this season in a 113-100 loss to the Lakers notable mostly for the career-high 41 points scored by second-year forward Kyle Kuzma, who – just like Pistons owner Tom Gores, seated courtside – grew up near Flint and surely had folks back home staying up late to watch.
Griffin played 37 minutes and didn’t grab a single rebound, scoring 16 points, as the Pistons were beaten at what they do best, outboarded 47-34, and couldn’t do much to prevent the Lakers from indulging in their strengths.
“I just thought energy was bad tonight,” Griffin said. “We didn’t really get to or do anything that we wanted to. We didn’t take away anything. All the things they’re good at, we didn’t take it away. I think it was our energy.”
The Pistons managed a 24-20 lead after a quarter mostly because the Lakers shot even more poorly than the Pistons, especially from the 3-point arc. But after missing their first eight triples, the Lakers made their next six. Kuzma scored 19 in the first half, then went nuclear in the third quarter, scoring 22 more. He sat out the fourth quarter.
“He had a big night,” Dwane Casey said. “Young man has his career night. I thought in certain situations we defended him well. In other situations, we did not. … The things we can control, we’ve got to do a better job of it. Some of the shots he was making, you’re not going to control that.”
Kuzma hit 16 of 24 shots, 5 of 10 from the 3-point line, four of his triples coming in the third quarter. But the Lakers hit just 8 of 23 triples for the game, doing the bulk of their damage inside. Second in the NBA in scoring points in the paint at 55.3 a game, the Lakers had 40 by halftime on their way to 72.
“They had so many points in the paint,” Casey said. “The blow-bys were disconcerting.”
Indeed, Casey threw a zone defense at the Lakers to try anything to close the gaps being routinely exploited by an opponent missing its driving force, LeBron James.
The Pistons managed just 47 points in the first half when they shot 37 percent and made only 6 of 24 3-point shots. More than half of their 87 shots, 44, were 3-pointers. The player who had the most success, Langston Galloway, didn’t play until entering the game with two minutes left in the third quarter. He wound up with 15 points, hitting 5 of 6 triples, putting himself back in the running for a regular rotation role after playing sporadically of late as Casey searches for any measure of consistency off the bench.
“It’s challenging,” he said of his uncertain role. “But I’m a professional. I’ve got to be ready any time my number’s called and go out there any single night to make the most of it.”
“I was really proud of Langston,” Casey said. “Bounced back. I thought he did an excellent job coming off the bench. Luke (Kennard) did a good job, I thought, running the pick and roll.”
They were part of the bench that Casey employed a little differently than the norm. After 14-0 and 15-0 runs by Utah and San Antonio in second quarters of the last two games to change the dynamic of each, Casey started pulling starters midway through the first quarter, then opened the second quarter with only Jon Leuer and Kennard on the floor along with three starters.
But for the third straight game, the start of the second quarter is again where the game turned. The four-point lead the Pistons held after one was wiped out by an 18-5 Lakers spurt in the quarter’s first five minutes. The Pistons never regained the lead or came particularly close to doing so.
Griffin was asked his frustration level as the Pistons lost for the 15th time in their last 19 games.
“Always high after a loss,” he said. “You never want to come in and have a performance like that, especially when you need wins. One through 12, however many we had out there tonight, the energy just wasn’t there. We’ve got to figure that out.”