Minus Griffin, mistake-prone Pistons dig early hole and can’t recover in loss to Kings

Reggie Bullock hit 3 of 6 from the 3-point line but the other Pistons starters made only 2 of 14 in their loss to Sacramento
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

SACRAMENTO – The Pistons haven’t had much of a margin for error even with Blake Griffin in the lineup ever since injuries began washing over them in early December. Without Griffin – as the Pistons were on Thursday, the second time this season they’ve given him a game off to help combat the onerous workload he’s shouldered – it shrinks to imperceptible levels.

And the Pistons were far from flawless, turning the ball over 20 times.

That’s the one thing they knew they couldn’t afford against the coltish Kings, who make up what they lack in experience with depth and athleticism in their first season not automatically destined for the lottery in a generation.

But the Pistons turned the ball over four times and made shaky decisions that earned them four blocked shots in the first quarter, as well. Sacramento turned all those transition opportunities into 10 fast-break points to come away with a 34-21 lead.

The Pistons – on a back to back, without Griffin and reeling from the whipsaw effect of injuries, travel and a stiffened schedule – never really got back in the game, though they closed the gap to 112-102 at the end.

“Turnovers ignited that,” Dwane Casey said of Sacramento’s full-sprint start. “That’s the main emphasis on every board we had this morning, every meeting we had. We can’t turn the ball over and, lo and behold, a lot of ’em were just ill-advised.”

Casey wasn’t discouraged afterward, though, heartened by the fight he saw as he waved players off the bench and saw them fight through fatigue and frustration to at least force Sacramento to spend timeouts late as the Pistons whittled the deficit down.

“The biggest nemesis – we’ve got to change it – is turnovers,” Casey said. “Twenty turnovers for 34 points. You can’t beat anybody turning the ball over, gifting them baskets the way we did.”

It hasn’t just been the turnovers for the Pistons but the extreme production their opponents have gotten out of them. Coaches aim to limit the damage to one point yielded per turnover. Sacramento matched the Pistons with 20 turnovers, but the Pistons generated nine fewer points off of the Kings’ miscues.

“They push the ball a lot in transition,” Reggie Bullock said. “Whoever gets it out, they kick it, push it. They throw ahead well. Obviously, (De’Aaron) Fox is an attacking point guard and finds players. Their pace – it was something we talked about and tried to prepare for, but we didn’t do a great job of trying to contain them in transition. We turned it over and gave them extra possessions.”

Without Griffin – so central to the offense this season – and dangerously low on big men with Zaza Pachulia and Henry Ellenson still injured, Casey surrounded Andre Drummond with four guards: Bullock, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Bruce Brown.

Drummond, though, probably could have used a night off, too, as he’s played all 40 games this season and didn’t have the usual snap in his body. Another sign he might have been a half-step slow was the foul trouble he endured, picking up five in less than 32 minutes. The Pistons, who’ve been among the NBA’s dominant rebounding teams basically since drafting Drummond seven years ago, were badly outrebounded (47-37) for the second straight game.

The four-guard lineup might have kept the Pistons in the game if they’d have shot well from the 3-point arc, but the starters were a combined 5 of 20, Bullock hitting 3 of 6 and the three other perimeter starters 2 of 14.

“Just next man up,” Langston Galloway said. “Going out there, competing. Everybody has to contribute, everybody has to step up and be more vocal and be a leader. We were trying to do that any way possible. We got down early with a couple of turnovers, but we had to continue to battle back.”

Casey and the front office and training staff mapped out a plan to give Griffin periodic games off on back to backs long ago, but Casey admitted that it was tough to sit his star with the Pistons so badly in need of a win during a stretch where they’ve now lost 16 of 20 since their high-water mark of 13-7 after a Dec. 1 win over Golden State.

“With the planned rest, believe me, it was badly timed but badly needed,” he said. “Our guys competed. We made mistakes and a lot of teachable moments for the young guys. That’s what this game was about for us with as many men as we had out. Teaching, talking. That’s what this was all about. If we don’t learn from mistakes, it’s on us. That’s the one thing, as long as I’m here, I’m going to continue to teach hard, coach, take those opportunities to teach the right things for this program.”