Minus their 3-point punch, Pistons can’t match Spurs after defense cracks

The Pistons have three players left who shoot 3-point shots at any volume and also well enough to keep defenses honest – Wayne Ellington, Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey. They began Monday’s game without Ellington and ended it without Grant. Bey, meanwhile, took two 3-point shots for the game.

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Only five times all year have the Pistons made fewer than 10 3-point baskets in a game. They would have matched their season low of five makes if not for Frank Jackson, who hadn’t played since Feb. 24, making two in the game’s final 32 seconds. Their 25 attempts was a season low and 11 under their average of 36.

The Pistons were outscored by 15 points from the 3-point line on a night they lost by 10, 109-99, to San Antonio.

It was less a function of any magic defensive tricks the Spurs employed than one of personnel, Dwane Casey admitted.

“Guys know what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Casey said of the absence of 3-point shooting with the lineup he was able to field. “It doesn’t make sense to jack up 40 threes when you’re shooting 30 percent. Our guys are smart guys. We’re a team that’s got to get out in transition right now. That’s the way we’re going to have to play. You’ve got to manufacture points in some other way until guys develop their 3-point shooting.”

But it’s hard to get out in transition when your defense isn’t getting many stops and San Antonio’s 35-point second quarter, which enabled the Spurs to take a 10-point lead that wasn’t threatened in the second half, didn’t involve many clips for a Pistons defensive highlight reel.

“I didn’t think it was really about the points tonight,” Josh Jackson said. “It wasn’t really about scoring in the second quarter. I think they shot 70 percent. If we could’ve played better defense, we would have given ourselves a chance to win.”

Grant crashed hard to the court under the basket in the aftermath of trying to finish at the rim amid a crowd late in the third quarter. He stayed prone on his stomach as play continued. The Pistons called timeout after San Antonio scored against a shorthanded defense as Grant slowly rose to his knees and then to his feet. He didn’t return to the game, finishing with 14 points, though he spent much of the fourth quarter on an exercise bike near the Pistons bench area and Casey said afterward that Grant probably could have re-entered the game if needed.

He, too, was limited to just three 3-point attempts, less than half his average of 6.8 a game.

Ellington missed the game with a groin injury that Casey said shouldn’t cause him to miss much more time. Svi Mykhailiuk, who took 77 percent of his shot attempts from the 3-point arc, was traded to Oklahoma City last week and the player who came in return, Hamidou Diallo, is out with a groin injury. And for as high as the Pistons are on the hyperathletic Diallo’s future, he won’t address their 3-point issues; Diallo takes just 14 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc and is shooting a career-high 29 percent from there this season.

“I was talking to (Gregg Popovich) after the game. He said it’s amazing what losing one shooter does,” Casey said. “It just puts so much pressure on your scoring ability when you have one of your best shooters off the floor. They were sending the kitchen sink at Jerami.”

Bey, whose 78 3-pointers made coming into the game was second among rookies only to No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards by one, was 1 of 2 from the arc, taking his first attempt on the first possession of the third quarter.

Rodney McGruder took Ellington’s spot in the starting lineup and was the only Pistons player to make more than one triple – he was 2 of 4 – until Frank Jackson’s late pair. Over their last two games, the Pistons are 15 of 57 – 26.3 percent – from the 3-point arc and they’ve failed to crack 100 points both times.

Casey is dedicated to a forward-thinking offensive philosophy based on spacing the floor, driving into the paint and prioritizing shots at the rim and the 3-point arc. But the priority of the organization has to be to up the talent base of the roster while they’re in a transition phase. Sometimes, as in the Mykhailiuk for Diallo trade, that means causing a short-term roster imbalance for the benefit of the long term. In the meantime, the Pistons have to figure out other ways to score points.

“Everybody has a skill set,” Casey said. “It’s something we’re working on guys with, 3-point shooting. Wayne is a natural 3-point shooter. We’ve just got to continue to work and our guys are working their butts off on that 3-point line.”