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