Late-arriving Pistons get taken out of it early, then rally falls short at Miami
Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 117-108 loss to the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena
EARLY ONSLAUGHT – The Miami Heat did exactly what they were supposed to do to a team playing under duress – smack the Pistons in the mouth early with the full expectation their disadvantaged opponent would cash in early. The Pistons flipped the script – they cut a 29-point deficit to nine midway through the fourth quarter – but didn’t have enough in the tank without any of their veteran stars available for a stretch run.
The Pistons – who didn’t arrive in Miami from snowy Detroit until nearly dawn – showed the effects of their Monday travails, falling behind by double digits midway through the first quarter on a night they were further hampered by the absence of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. After returning from injury on Monday – Griffin missed the season’s first 10 games, Rose the prior six – the Pistons exercised caution with their leg injuries and left themselves further vulnerable against a team with a 6-3 record. The Pistons scuffled to score 17 first-quarter points, but they were still within hailing distance about four minutes into the second quarter when a 17-0 Heat run expanded their lead to 29. The Pistons spurted in the third quarter, scoring 28 points in the first eight minutes to pull within 13, then fell behind by 20 again before rallying to within nine. But Andre Drummond fouled out with 8:38 to play – his streak of 11 straight double-doubles to start the season was snapped when he came up a rebound short – and Miami again pushed its lead to 14 before the Pistons sliced it to eight in the final two minutes and seven with less than 40 seconds to play. Rebounding is a pretty good barometer for a team’s collective energy; Miami won that going away 42-32. Bruce Brown established a career high with 11 assists.
FIRING BLANKS – If the Pistons were going to have a puncher’s chance given the obstacles facing them – the back to back against a team that hadn’t played since Friday, a flight segment unusually long for a back to back, the weather-influenced flight delay and the dawn arrival – it had to start with maintaining their NBA-leading 3-point accuracy. The Pistons came into the game hitting .407 from the line, but that looked as if it would take a big hit after they shot 6 of 22 (27 percent) in the first half, though they rebounded in the second half to finish at 15 of 41 (36.6 percent). Whether it was the fatigue factor that left them without legs for shooting from distance early or being forced into some attempts for lack of ball and player movement, the Pistons never strung together productive first-half possessions. Two of their best 3-point shooters, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway, each went 0 of 7 overall and 0 of 5 from the 3-point arc in the first half, but Kennard reversed course quickly in the second half. He hit three triples without a miss in the first four-plus minutes, inducing a Miami timeout that cut its lead to 18 after the third and scored all of his 22 points after halftime. Galloway finished with 11 points, hitting 2 of 8 from the arc, before fouling out late.
VALUE SIGNINGS – Miami’s big splash of the off-season was signing Jimmy Butler via a sign and trade with Philadelphia, but part of the Heat’s strong start is due to two finds among undrafted players, both from Michigan colleges. Miami brought in Duncan Robinson two years ago after his career at Michigan ended and signed Oakland University’s Kendrick Nunn late last season. They both started against the Pistons, Robinson’s eight quick points sparking Miami’s fast start. He finished with 11, hitting 3 of 8 3-pointers. Nunn hit consecutive 3-pointers after the Pistons had cut their deficit to 13 with four minutes left in the third quarter to push Miami back to a 19-point lead and his triple after the Pistons had pulled within nine midway through the fourth quarter was another big basket. Nunn finished with 20 points and five assists. Both Robinson and Nunn began their college careers elsewhere, Robinson at Division III Williams and Nunn at Illinois, before coming to Michigan.