Pistons dealt a costly loss as Hawks score 38 in fourth quarter to rally back

Andre Drummond had a big game but the Pistons stumbled late as Atlanta erased a six-point deficit to hand the Pistons a stinging loss
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

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.


3-ROTATION SHUFFLE
– 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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