‘It hurts, but we’re building callouses’ – Pistons lose an OT heartbreaker to Atlanta

Wayne Ellington
Wayne Ellington scored 16 points and hit 4 of 9 from the 3-point arc as the Pistons lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Atlanta
Scott Cunningham (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Dwane Casey knew there’d be nights like this, but when nights like this – a 17-point lead melting away in the last seven minutes, the game lost in overtime – come anyway, they sit like a bowling ball in the belly.

Wednesday’s 123-115 loss at Atlanta would wound any team – young team, veteran team, championship contender, rebuilding franchise – but it especially guts a Pistons team that’s lived up to its vow to be competitive but has a 3-11 record through 14 games to show for it. Only one of those 11 losses has come by more than 10 points.

“It stings,” Casey said. “It hurts because the guys played their hearts out. We didn’t play smart down the stretch. It’s not from lack of competing. That’s one thing these guys are doing. It hurts, but we’re building callouses from this. I told the guys we’ve got to maintain the intensity and now put IQ in decision making.”

Jerami Grant’s emergence continued apace as he scored 32 points to lead the Pistons in scoring for the 13th consecutive time, tying a similar Bob Lanier streak for the fourth longest in franchise history. But Casey looks at the number of free throws Grant shot – seven, one of them coming for an Atlanta lane violation – compared to the number of times he crashed the Hawks defense to get to the rim relative to the comparative numbers of Atlanta’s Trae Young and cringes.

“I’ve got to look at it, but it’s not even conscionable to think he’s driving that many times to the basket and not getting hit,” Casey said. “We sent a bunch (of video clips to the NBA office) in the Miami game. We’ve got to look at it and continue to talk to the officials, talk to the league. Trae Young, no disrespect to him, he’s going there 19 times. We’ve got to look at it and see what it is.”

Young finished with 38 points – 32 after halftime – and 10 assists for the Hawks, who got 27 points and 26 rebounds from Clint Capela, whose dunk off a Young feed with five seconds left in regulation capped the 24-7 Hawks run over the final seven minutes to force overtime. Among Capela’s rebounds, 12 came off the offensive glass – five more than the Pistons had as a team – and the Hawks held a 23-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Add that to the 38-19 free-throw gap – with Young matching Detroit’s 19 foul shots all by himself – and the 63-42 rebounding margin and it’s a wonder the Pistons found a way to stay in the game, never mind be in prime position to win it.

Casey felt the whistles that put Young on the line hurt the Pistons in two ways – invigorating Young (and accounting for 13 of his points) while throwing the Pistons completely out of rhythm offensively when seemingly their every possession began by taking the ball out of the net after an Atlanta free throw.

“They shot 38 free throws, 12 to one in the fourth quarter, I think it was,” he said. “We’ve got to be smarter and we put ’em in the penalty way too quick. It kind of broke our rhythm once we put them on the free-throw line so much.”

“We got a little bit stagnant. We did. At the same time, we got some pretty good looks,” Wayne Ellington said. “The main thing is we didn’t get stops when we needed them. Trae Young led them down the stretch and they made some tough shots, but also got some critical calls. Still a young season. We’ve got to continue to grind.”

For Ellington, a 12-year veteran and at 33 the team’s elder statesman, getting over losses like that one still doesn’t come easily.

“It hurts. It hurts. It hurts all of us,” he said. “We’ve got to take the pain and apply it in the right way. Learn from it and keep on pushing.”

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