Loss stalls Pistons playoff clinching with Griffin’s sore knee clouding closing chances

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin, hobbled by a knee injury, finished with 16 points as the Pistons couldn’t come back from a 23-point deficit and failed to clinch a playoff berth in losing to Charlotte.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The 538.com projection model says the Pistons are still a 96 percent bet to make the playoffs, which begs the question: How much does its algorithms take into account the status of Blake Griffin’s cranky left knee?

Because that, as much as anything else, could determine the fate of the Pistons. Win their last two games – at home on Tuesday against Memphis, on the road Wednesday at New York – against teams that long ago shifted their focus to the future and they’re in. Lose one or the other and they’ll need a little help.

That’s called “controlling your destiny,” but the thing the Pistons have no control over – or only to the extent their medical staff can work its magic – is whether Griffin’s knee will do enough healing over 48 hours to allow him to more closely resemble the dynamo who’s carried the Pistons to the brink of playoff qualification.

“This is the time to suck it up and get it done,” Griffin said after the Pistons lost on a day a win would have clinched a playoff spot. “Whatever you have, whatever anybody has in this locker room, you’ve got to give it to the team. It’s time for us all to give that ultimate sacrifice.”

The 104-91 loss, their fourth straight, leaves the Pistons at 39-41. Brooklyn’s win at Indiana clinched a spot for the Nets and also means the Pistons can’t get the No. 6 seed, which will go either to Brooklyn or Orlando. The Memphis and New York games are ones the Pistons will enter as considerable favorites, but the margin for error shrinks if Griffin is as limited physically as he appeared on Sunday.

“He’s on the court,” Dwane Casey said. “He’s not 100 percent, but he’s giving us what he has.”

On Sunday – less than 48 hours after he scored 45 points upon returning from a three-game absence – Griffin finished with 16 points on 5 of 18 shooting, 11 of them 3-pointers. One of his three baskets inside the arc, coming in the second half, might have said more about how his knee feels than everything else. With an open path to the basket, Griffin settled for a very gentle layup instead of the forceful slam dunk that has defined him.

Early in the game, Griffin dived on the floor to save a loose ball, throwing it to Reggie Jackson from his backside, the ball eventually finding Wayne Ellington for an open corner triple. After five minutes, the Pistons led 16-9 and looked on their way to the type of dominant wire-to-wire win that the 2004 NBA championship Pistons, brought back to be honored on the 15th anniversary of their title run, would have recognized.

But the game turned, swiftly and suddenly. Charlotte went on a 17-4 run to take the lead and outscored the Pistons 51-21 over the next 17 minutes. The Pistons got nothing off of their bench except scoring from Ish Smith (20 points), shot 6 of 30 from the 3-point arc after the first quarter and gave up an alarming 34 first-half points in the paint.

The Pistons held Charlotte to 44 points and 39 percent shooting in the second half and pulled within a point with eight minutes left. But they failed to score on three straight possessions with the chance to take the lead and Charlotte pulled away, getting big triples from Kemba Walker (31 points, though just 11 of 29 shooting) and Frank Kaminsky (an especially damaging 24 points off of the bench).

“It’s been déjà vu,” Reggie Jackson said. “Keep digging ourselves a hole and then we find a way to fight and compete and tough loss. So we’ve got to stop doing it. We’ve just got to find a way to compete for all 48.”

“Our disposition in the second quarter wasn’t there,” Casey said. “I loved the way we played in the second half to get it to that point. You learn from it (and) you move on. Two more opportunities. Another opportunity on Tuesday here at home to take care of business.”

Both Charlotte and Miami stayed because of the Pistons’ loss, each a game behind Detroit. But while Charlotte swept the season series with the Pistons to own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Pistons hold the tiebreaker over Miami. The Pistons could qualify for the postseason with a 40-42 record, but the only guarantee for them is to get to 41 wins, unattainable for both the Heat and Hornets.

Griffin, told that Kaminsky said the Hornets were having fun and asked if the Pistons were, as well, pondered the question.

“I don’t know how many games we’ve lost now, four? So, no, obviously not fun to lose. But check back at the end of the season, both teams.”

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