Pistons dealt a costly loss as Hawks score 38 in fourth quarter to rally back
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
ATLANTA – Blake Griffin made his last three shots of the game – including a banked triple at the buzzer to turn a bitter six-point loss into an equally bitter three-point loss – and still finished 7 of 21. So, sure, there are offensive kinks the Pistons must work out.
But let’s not lose the storyline. The Pistons gave up 118 points to a team that was 22 games under .500 at tipoff.
“Our defense stinks,” Stan Van Gundy said with flawless clarity. “We couldn’t stop the ball at all. We just got broken down, broken down, broken down. We can’t guard anybody off the dribble.”
The Pistons trailed most of the game, but went ahead by a point early in the fourth quarter as newcomers James Ennis and Jameer Nelson sparked a 10-0 run. Their lead was six midway through the fourth quarter. But they couldn’t string anything approaching a defensive stand together as the Hawks scored 36 fourth-quarter points.
“It’s tough to give up 118 and try to win on the road – or win just in general,” said Griffin, who finished with 23 points, eight in the final 40 seconds with the Pistons playing catch-up. “We’ve got to be better defensively, our rotations and all of that. At times we were pretty good, considering we were playing Jameer and James some decent minutes and they hadn’t really had a chance to go over stuff with us.”
Ennis and Nelson counted as bright spots for what they might mean over the season’s final 27 games. But there’s no getting around the damage this loss could do to the Pistons, who wound up two games behind Philadelphia for the final playoff spot instead of one game. Instead of being a game over .500, they’re a game under.
“I think sometimes you make it harder than what you have to,” Ish Smith said. “Sometimes you just play. It’s funny. We started five and oh (after the trade for Griffin) just kind of flowing, just playing, not really overthinking it. You can watch us now, maybe guys are kind of overthinking it. We’ve just got to play.”
Smith was one of those who struggled, finishing with two points on 1 of 4 shooting and committing five turnovers in 29 minutes. Van Gundy went with Nelson not only over Langston Galloway as Smith’s backup but with 1:34 left and the Pistons trailing by two points.
“He had a good practice yesterday and even tonight I thought he made some good passes,” Van Gundy said. “The ball movement’s a little bit better. I don’t know that we’ll stay that way, but I thought the new guys played well. If you look at the plus/minus, that wasn’t the problem. It was our starters, other than Andre (Drummond).”
Drummond finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots and finished even in plus/minus. The four other starters were in the red, Griffin a minus-21 in his 34 minutes.
A 35 percent 3-point shooter this season with the Clippers, Griffin is now at 26 percent with the Pistons and that’s after he made his last two of the game. Griffin was 1 of 7 from the arc in Friday’s loss to the Clippers and was 1 of 8 until the 40-second mark of Sunday’s loss. Even if he were shooting them at a better clip, the number of attempts raised a few eyebrows – Van Gundy’s and Griffin’s.
“I need to do a better job of rolling, short rolling and rolling on pick and rolls,” Griffin said. “I think I was popping too much tonight. I shouldn’t take 10 threes in a game. I didn’t even realize I did until after the game. I’ve just got to do a better job.”
“Everybody’s just backing off of him,” Van Gundy said. “I’d like to get him the ball closer to the basket, but he sees them in a drop and he’s backing up. (Ten) of his (21) shots are threes tonight. He was shooting it at 35 percent in L.A., so we know his percentage will go up. But I still think teams are going to much rather give him that than just let him get going to the basket.”
The Pistons get two more home games – Monday hosting New Orleans, then a return date with Atlanta on Wednesday – before the All-Star break. Their playoff chances almost require that they win both.
“We’ve just got to lock in and do the little things a little bit better,” Griffin said. “I need to be better, obviously, but the best thing about the NBA is you get a chance to redeem yourself the next night and that happens to be tomorrow for us. So we’ll move on.”