Pistons D gets dissected inside and out as Pelicans go for 118 in third straight loss

Blake Griffin scored 22 points but the Pistons lost their third straight game on the heels of a 5-game winning streak.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – For all the creative energy the Pistons – coaching staff and players – have poured into devising an offense that best utilizes the unique gifts of Blake Griffin, maybe they’ve subconsciously ignored the important minutiae required of a cohesive defense.

“You’d like to blame it on that, but the truth is I don’t know,” Griffin said after the Pistons gave up 118 points for the second straight game and saw their losing streak reach three straight on the heels of the five-game win streak that followed the trade for Griffin. “I think if I had the answer to that, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it right now.”

The Pistons were sliced and diced at both ends of the offensive spectrum as New Orleans dented them for 54 points on 49 shots in the paint and rained 14 3-pointers down on them, as well. That accounted for 96 Pelicans points in their 118-103 win.

Anthony Davis scored 37, which at least temporarily gives him the distinction of holding the scoring records at both The Palace of Auburn Hills – 59, two seasons ago – and Little Caesars Arena.

“He’s a great player and he’s been playing great,” said Anthony Tolliver, who fouled out in less than 18 minutes as one of three players – Griffin and Andre Drummond the others – who shared the onus of guarding Davis. “He’s kind of on a roll right now and we didn’t really do much to slow him down. It wasn’t one person. He definitely had his way with all of us.”

He wasn’t the only Pelican to benefit from porous Pistons defense. Jrue Holiday scored 22 points and dished out 12 assists – only six shy of the Pistons team assists total – while Nikola Mirotic, acquired from Chicago earlier this month, had 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

“I didn’t think we really did anything very well,” Stan Van Gundy said. “They’re a good offensive team and Holiday and Davis both had really good nights. But when you’re not back in transition, when you won’t put your body between the ball and the basket … we weren’t physical enough of tough enough. It was a disappointing night coming off a bad defensive night last night. I would’ve expected a little bit more commitment than what we had.”

The Pistons hung around within a basket or two for most of the first half, but New Orleans went on a 12-0 run to take a 14-point lead late in the second quarter. It was an eight-point game at halftime, but the Pelicans quickly put it into double digits. The Pistons were 2 of 16 from the 3-point arc midway through the third quarter, but then hit 6 of 10 to come within striking distance.

It was a five-point game late in the third quarter when New Orleans went on another run, this one 10-0, and the Pistons were out of runs. Playing their third game in four nights, they didn’t have another passing gear.

“I think we just need to get back to focusing on defense,” said Drummond, who grabbed 21 rebounds. “I think we allowed – including myself – our offensive play, our frustration from missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to lead away from our defense. That’s what we anchor ourselves on. If we don’t get stops on defense, it’s not going to translate to offense. As soon as we get better with that, we’ll start winning games.”

Griffin, after two inefficient games, made a more concerted effort to play inside against New Orleans and finished with 22 points on 8 of 17 shooting, though he was 1 of 6 from the 3-point arc on a night the Pistons finished 9 of 35. He took 10 triples in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta.

“I never want to catch and not get to the paint as much as I did last night,” he said. “It was definitely part of the game plan to get inside and finish a little bit more.”

The Pistons might not have the luxury of time as they slipped to 27-29 with the loss, but Van Gundy expects that the time off over the All-Star break – and the two days of practice he’ll have coming out of it before the Pistons play again on Feb. 23 – will help smooth the rough edges on offense. But none of that will matter if the defense doesn’t plug its leaks.

“Guys will own up now after the game. There were four, five, six loose balls where nobody goes on the floor. There’s three or four times we don’t get back and people are behind us defensively,” Van Gundy said. “There’s times we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win.”

“Those are effort plays that we haven’t been making,” Drummond said. “Loose balls on the ground, nobody’s diving for them. That’s just a toughness thing. We’ve got to get back to playing tough – just playing winning basketball is what it is.”


Three quick observations from Monday night’s 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Little Caesars Arena

1-DEFENSE DROOPING – The eight-game losing streak that turned into a five-game winning streak has morphed into a three-game losing streak. The All-Star break can’t arrive soon enough for the Pistons, who haven’t had more than a day between games since adding Blake Griffin late last month. Their offense has blown hot and cold since adding Griffin, but it’s their defense that has ruptured in the three-game skid, yielding 114.7 points a game. The Pelicans scored 60 points in the first half and crested 100 with eight minutes to play Monday, scoring in transition and producing countless open 3-point attempts. New Orleans finished with 54 points in the paint and 42 points from the 3-point line. Anthony Davis bedeviled the Pistons as he always does, finishing with 38 points. But he had plenty of help, including 21 off the bench from Nikola Mirotic, acquired earlier this month from Chicago. Griffin finished with 22 points. Andre Drummond grabbed 21 rebounds to go with 13 points.

2-OUT OF SYNC – It’s dangerous extrapolating from small sample sizes, but the fact the Pistons only amassed 18 assists on their 35 baskets says something about a disjointed offense that will come under intense scrutiny by Stan Van Gundy and his coaching staff over the All-Star break. The addition of Blake Griffin has brought about profound change in how the Pistons attack, going from a unit that ran nearly all of its half-court action through Andre Drummond over the first 50 games to one more focused on isolation for Griffin since. Griffin was more efficient against the Pelicans than he’d been in the past few games – he hit 8 of 17 shots and was 7 of 11 inside the 3-point arc – as Van Gundy said before the game he needed to do a better job of getting Griffin the ball closer to the basket instead of having his catches come outside the 3-point arc. The Pistons had just five assists on 17 baskets in a first half that saw them score 52 points. Some of that was just tough shooting luck – the Pistons were 2 of 15 from the 3-point arc at halftime, the bulk of their misses coming off of shots that would have drawn assists – but it also speaks to the increase in isolation possessions that often produce little off-the-ball movement.

– Stan Van Gundy went with Jameer Nelson as the backup point guard in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta because of what he saw from him in Saturday’s practice, he said. And Nelson displayed keen pick-and-roll instincts despite his lack of familiarity with the Pistons, developing obvious chemistry with Andre Drummond in the second half at Atlanta. So Nelson was again Ish Smith’s backup at point guard, but Van Gundy used Langston Galloway with the second unit as well as James Ennis. That squeezed rookie Luke Kennard out of the rotation in the first half, but he came on in the third quarter instead of Ennis, who didn’t appear again until the final four minutes. Nelson scored 12 points with five assists in 20 minutes. Van Gundy also used Eric Moreland for more than four minutes of the second quarter but didn’t use him again until the Pistons trailed by 18 points with less than four minutes to play.

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