Kennard’s career-high 28 not enough as Griffin-less Pistons lose at Philadelphia
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PHILADELPHIA – Blake Griffin had been such a security blanket for the Pistons over the season’s first 24 games, so central to their every movement, that nobody really knew what to expect with him in street clothes for the 25th game.
The answer was inconclusive except for this irrefutable conclusion: They’d rather not have to explore life without Griffin all that often.
There were silver linings to be found – Luke Kennard’s career-high 28 points as he works his way back from a 16-game injury absence, for starters – but the dark cloud of a five-game losing streak compounded by injuries hovered over the Pistons as they rolled out of town for Charlotte, their daunting December marching on inexorably.
“We’re trying to get every bit of positive out of this stretch,” Dwane Casey said after the 116-102 loss to the 76ers dropped the Pistons to 13-12. “It’s a stretch from hell, but it’s going to make us a better team, closer together, tougher, hopefully.”
Casey made the decision not to play Griffin, he said, and his Sunday collision with Anthony Davis cemented it but wasn’t the only factor. One way or anbother, a break for Griffin was coming. Griffin is sixth in the NBA in minutes played and Monday would have been his third game in four nights, his fourth in six. After missing big chunks of the previous four seasons, the Pistons are going to be cautious with their cornerstone.
“I’m sure he’s not 100 percent happy with it. He’s a competitor. He wants to play,” Casey said before the game. “But he also is smart enough to understand the big picture. It’s not like he jumped up and down and said no, but it wasn’t like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ He wasn’t excited, but he also understands. He’s on board with it.”
Without Griffin – and also again without Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith and Stanley Johnson – Casey started Jon Leuer at power forward and moved Kennard into the starting lineup for his scoring for Glenn Robinson III, who would join the injured list by spraining his left ankle in the first half. X-rays were negative, but an MRI will be administered on Tuesday.
The offense functioned reasonably well, given the absence of 55 points available to Casey, but the defense sprouted leaks in uncharacteristic places. The Pistons came into the game No. 1 in 3-point field-goal defense and have been among the league leaders in limiting 3-point attempts. But Philadelphia had a big night from the arc – 15 of 37 – and really hurt the Pistons in another area where they usually shine: second-chance points, where Philly held a 27-11 edge.
“Those are the things that frustrate you,” Casey said. “Doesn’t take talent. It’s not who you are, what your contract says. Box out and go get the ball.”
The Pistons kept hanging around, though, Casey mixing and matching lineups that hadn’t played as units all season.
“I think guys did a really good job of coming in and playing hard,” said Andre Drummond, who went 37 minutes and put up 21 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots. “We gave it the best shot we had. We had tough mistakes down the stretch that got them going again, but I think overall we played a really tough game tonight.”
The Pistons went on a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter to whittle a 15-point deficit to three, then came back from two more double-digits deficits in the second half. They pulled within three on a Henry Ellenson triple – Ellenson had played eight minutes for the season, but was called on for 17 minutes in this game – in the third quarter and were within five with eight minutes to play.
“They’re a great team. They’re going to be a team to fight the top four in the East,” Kennard said. “They always play well against us, it seems like. But we stuck in there. I’m proud of the way that we fought tonight. We hit adversity. They had some big runs on us, but we stayed locked in and had some runs ourselves.”
The run of injuries couldn’t have been more ill-timed for the Pistons, who are in the middle of likely their toughest three-week stretch of the season with 11 consecutive games against likely playoff teams. After beating Golden State, they’ve lost twice to Philadelphia and once apiece to Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and New Orleans with Charlotte up next.
“Once we get everyone back, we’ve just got to remember how this feels,” Casey said. “Be ready to bounce back out of it, get everybody back healthy on the floor. It’s part of the NBA.”