Offensive tailspin leads to 6th straight Pistons loss as late rally stalls

Tobias Harris scored 19 points and his two fourth-quarter triples sparked a rally that came up short as the Pistons lost to Boston.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy would balk if you said what he did after Sunday’s loss to Boston – the sixth straight for a Pistons team going through about as rough a stretch of schedule as any NBA team will traverse this season – was amateur psychology. He’d call it hard-core reality.

But he gave his team a message after the 91-81 loss in which the Pistons simply could not make a shot for agonizingly long stretches of the game – most notably, the start of the third quarter when they went five minutes without scoring and saw a seven-point halftime deficit swell to 17.

“I said to ’em after the game, if you just put up the whole season on the board and took our wins and took our losses, who they’re to and how the games played out, and you were at 14 and 12 – I asked if you were getting ready to play a team 14 and 12, these were their wins, these were their close losses, what would you feel like?”

And then he answered his own question.

“You’d feel like you were playing a pretty good team. But because six of ’em are in a row – the schedule’s not balanced out – then you start to feel like you can’t play. I think we’ve lost some confidence and some spirit and we’ve got to get it back. We’ve got to gain a new perspective. We can come through this. We knew we were going to play a month – from the middle of November on – unlike anybody else in the NBA. We knew it. So we started it well and have not played well enough now. But we can come through it and get it back.”

The locker room seemed to embrace that message, too, because it wasn’t the somber place it was after losses to San Antonio, Milwaukee and Golden State last week. The Pistons had a surreal shooting experience against Boston, Reggie Jackson’s horrific 0 of 9 line the embodiment of their frustration. More than half of Jackson’s shots rattled in and out and all of them were quality looks.

“It gets frustrating, dropping six in a row,” Jackson admitted after both he and Andre Drummond – held to six points and 15 rebounds 13 days after putting up 26 and 22 at Boston in a 118-108 win that was the polar opposite in style and result – were slapped with technical fouls. “But the sky’s not falling. We had some mistakes, some things we’ve got to learn from, but other than that we’re good. I think we’re still pretty positive.

“Once we came back (to the locker room) and, I guess, had quick moments of sulking and letting it all sink in that it was another tough loss despite how hard we played, I think we also take it in that we’re still a great team in our eyes. We still play extremely hard, we still play together. We’ve just got to shore up some things and find a way to end up on the other side of the line of wins and losses.”

Tobias Harris, whose two fourth-quarter threes led a 12-0 run that saw the Pistons pull within four with four minutes to play and electrify Little Ceasars Arena, sounded a similar note.

“We’re as frustrated as we are because these are games we believe we should be victorious in,” he said. “It would be different if we were on a six-game losing streak and teams were blasting us by 20, 30 points. But it’s not the case. We’ve been in pretty much every game down to the wire. That’s the most frustrating part. But with that being said, I think it’s something that if we can begin to get on a run here and just collect wins and put ’em together, we’ll look back on it and it will help us for where we need to go.”

The Pistons get another quality team next when Denver – with the same 14-12 record as the Pistons following Sunday’s overtime loss at Indiana – comes to Little Caesars on Tuesday. But the schedule starts to lighten a little with just one of the next five currently holding a winning record.

“I kept saying things can change quickly in this league,” Van Gundy said of the warnings he issued when the Pistons opened 10-3. “And they can. And they have on us right now. But they can change quickly back the other way, too. What I’m trying to do is tell them the truth but I’m also trying to provide a little bit of balance. I think this is a good team. I think it’s got a chance to be a good team and I believe that. I’m not lying to them. I absolutely believe it and we’ve just got to get back to a better mindset.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 91-81 loss to the Boston Celtics at Little Caesars Arena

1-SPUTTERING OFFENSE – It was almost the craziest comeback you’ve ever seen. But it was anything but pretty. The Pistons won at Boston 13 days ago with a sublime offensive effort, racking up 118 points against the NBA’s No. 1 defense. This time around was the opposite of sublime. They got to halftime down only seven points despite getting a combined two baskets from Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris. It went from bad to worse in a hurry after that. The Pistons didn’t score for more than five minutes to start the third quarter, covering nine possessions, and Boston used a 10-0 run to take a 17-point lead. They did an abrupt U-turn after Harris finally cracked the ice, scoring 22 points in the last seven minutes of the third quarter and cutting an 18-point deficit to 10 before Terry Rozier’s bomb at the buzzer put Boston up 14 headed to the fourth. A 12-0 run sparked by two Harris triples that started with the Pistons down 16 pulled them within four with 4:19 to go and Harris had another three that would’ve pulled them within a point rim out. That was as close as they got. The Pistons, who’ve lost six in a row in the teeth of a brutal stretch of schedule, shot 33 percent. Reggie Jackson scored two points on free throws but missed all nine of his shots. The Pistons got off to a good start on offense, scoring 10 points before the nine-minute mark of the first quarter, then scuffled badly for the rest of the half. The Celtics went on a 22-7 run and had 29 points with more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter before also running aground. Harris finished with 19 points.

2-DRUMMOND COOLED OFF – Andre Drummond has been dominant against the Celtics for the entirety of Stan Van Gundy’s run in Detroit. But the Celtics made a lineup switch since their meeting 13 days ago in Boston, putting ex-Pistons center Aron Baynes into the lineup and bumping Al Horford to power forward to give Boston more size and a much better physical matchup for Drummond. Drummond, who had 26 points and 22 rebounds in the first meeting, was scoreless with four rebounds at halftime and finished with six points and 15 rebounds, scoring his only basket on a tip-in with three minutes to play. He averaged 21.3 points and 17.8 rebounds in four games vs. the Celtics last season, 16.8 and 13.0 two seasons ago and 22.3 and 16.7 in Van Gundy’s first year as Pistons coach. Baynes played him to a standoff with six points and 13 rebounds. Horford, matched with Tobias Harris instead of Drummond, got the Celtics off to a good start offensively, hitting 4 of 4 shots – mostly by taking Harris into the post and using his size edge to shoot over him – for eight points in nine first-quarter minutes before briefly exiting and visiting the locker room for what appeared a lower-body injury. Horford hit a big late three and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.

3-RARE ROOKIE – If the Pistons had beaten the long odds to win the lottery last June – they had seven chances in 1,000 to get the No. 1 pick – Stan Van Gundy let the cat out of the bag who they would have taken: Jayson Tatum. Teammates with Luke Kennard at Duke, Tatum instead was taken No. 3 by Boston. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said he would have taken Tatum with the No. 1 pick – which the Celtics had before trading it to Philadelphia so the 76ers could draft Markelle Fultz. Tatum, meanwhile, is starting for the team with the East’s best record and is third on the team in scoring at 14.3 a game while shooting 52 percent from the 3-point arc. It’s that last bit that, Van Gundy says, no one saw coming. “Anybody who says they’re not surprised by the 3-point shooting based on what he did in college is lying. If there’s somebody who said, ‘Oh, I knew he’d knock down 50 percent of his threes even though he made 32 percent of them from the college line,’ they’re lining. But everything else was there.” Van Gundy said, “I thought he was the best prospect in the draft.” Tatum finished with 11 points, hitting 3 of 5 triples, and his three ball with just under two minutes left to give Boston an eight-point lead stalled the Pistons comeback.

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