‘It’s the season’ – Pistons’ fate comes down to final 3 games after loss at OKC
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OKLAHOMA CITY – They got Blake Griffin back – oh, boy, did they get him back – and they got some good news from out of town. But they didn’t get a win that would have reduced their stress level over the season’s final five days.
The Pistons loss at Oklahoma City despite Griffin’s 45 points – including a franchise record-tying 31-point first half – coupled with Orlando’s romp over Atlanta bumped the Pistons from No. 6 in the East playoff chase to No. 8. At 39-40, they hold the same record as Brooklyn but lose the tiebreaker to the Nets, who remain in seventh.
The good news came from Minnesota, where Miami couldn’t hold a halftime lead and Dwyane Wade’s buzzer beater didn’t fall. That keeps the Pistons a game ahead of Miami, but they effectively hold a two-game lead over the Heat by virtue of owning the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
All of that said, the Pistons know it’s now time to take care of business. They close the season against three teams with losing records, starting with Charlotte in a 4 p.m. Sunday home game. The Hornets stayed alive, barely, when Jeremy Lamb’s triple with a second left beat Toronto. At 37-42, Charlotte needs everything to break right – but the Hornets will still have reason for hope at tipoff on Sunday and the Pistons can expect their best shot.
“It’s the season,” Dwane Casey said after the Pistons faltered in the fourth quarter of a 123-110 loss to Oklahoma City, itself desperate to avoid the No. 8 seed in the West and a likely first-round pairing with Golden State. “It’s in our hands. It’s right in our hands and nobody else but us. Go back home, take care of home.”
Griffin gave the Pistons whatever shot they had to score the upset in his native Oklahoma. After missing the last three games with a cranky left knee, Griffin had his second-highest scoring game of the season with 45 points. And 44 came in the first three quarters, 31 in a first half to put him in the Pistons record books alongside Grant Hill and Reggie Jackson.
He smashed his previous career high of six by draining nine 3-pointers in 14 attempts. He hit 14 of 16 free throws and 11 of 20 shots overall, but he missed all five shot attempts after returning to the game with nine minutes to play and the Pistons trailing by five points. With nobody else doing a lot of scoring, Oklahoma City was emboldened to double team Griffin at all costs in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a great job of fighting for 3½ quarters or at least three quarters,” he said. “I’ve got to be better in the fourth when I come back in and help us either get stops or get better buckets. So I liked the way we fought, but this time of the season we can’t dwell on this. We’ve got to move on and get three.”
The glaring statistics that undermined the Pistons were rebounding (59-32 Oklahoma City advantage) and second-chance points (27-4). The Thunder held a 21-4 edge in offensive rebounds. Both starting centers – Steven Adams and Andre Drummond – were limited by first-half foul trouble, Adams playing six minutes and Drummond seven. The Thunder will happily take that tradeoff, though, given their size advantage at virtually every other position.
“There’s a lot of length down there,” said Langston Galloway, who gave up 7 inches when he guarded Paul George, who led OKC with 30 points. “Guys crashing – the guard, bigs. You really have to box out your man and go in and help out.”
“They hit you first. That’s the biggest thing,” Reggie Jackson said. “They’re aggressive. They attack the glass all day and they do a good job of trying to pin you in. If you don’t bring it, they’re probably going to win the rebound battle.”
It didn’t help that nobody except Griffin shot it particularly well. Take away his 9 of 14 from the arc and the Pistons were 6 of 27. Jackson and Wayne Ellington combined to make 4 of 17 triples.
But winning at Oklahoma City to ensure their playoff spot was always a difficult proposition. It always seemed like the Pistons would need to make hay over those last three games and that’s what it’s come to. Griffin, who wore a substantial brace on his left leg but appeared to move freely, is ready to take his chances.
“I think we’re mentally in a good spot,” he said. “This team is pretty resilient. We’ve been through some ups and downs and I think we really believe in ourselves and I like that. Especially coming off of that West Coast trip, we were in somewhat the same situation and responded really well. So I expect us to do the same thing.”
“We’re not where we want to be,” Jackson said. “But we still control our own destiny. Can’t ask for much more.”