Pistons get going late, then finish by being late to get going as Houston escapes with 1-point win

Jerami Grant got going late – and then was late to get going.

Grant again led the Pistons in scoring and again finished with more than 20 points, the 14th straight game – every one since the season opener – both of those things held true. But on the game’s final possession, one that started with 3.4 seconds left and the Pistons trailing Houston by a point, Grant’s potential game-winning three-point play was ruled null and void after video review because both P.J. Tucker’s foul and Grant’s release were judged to have come too late.

The Pistons didn’t quibble with the judgment of the review – Bill Kennedy raised his arm and blew his whistle as Grant released the shot, which did appear to come just as the red light that borders the backboard lit up to indicate time had expired – but thought Grant was fouled multiple times before the one that got called.

“You watch the film, I thought he got fouled three times before he got the rim,” Dwane Casey said after the 103-102 loss dropped the tough-luck Pistons to 3-12. “Unfortunately, they called it after time was called.”

“It was pretty frustrating just watching the play,” rookie Isaiah Stewart said. “Just seeing how many times he got fouled on the play. I thought they were going to call something, but they ended up not calling anything. We can’t control that. But it was frustrating.”

Blake Griffin inbounded to Grant on the game’s final play, Grant receiving the pass near the 3-point line on the right side. He drove down the right side of the lane against Houston’s sturdy Tucker, who bodied him all the way.

Delon Wright, who scored 18 points, didn’t think Grant’s shot beat the buzzer but was hoping he’d see his teammate sent to the line for the chance to win it with free throws.

“I didn’t think he beat (the clock). I was right under the basket and I kind of saw it was a little late,” Wright said. “I was just hoping he called the foul before that so we’d get two shots.”

Grant’s only first-half points came on five free throws and he’d missed his first eight shots when he finally got one to go past the midway point of the third quarter to pull the Pistons within four points. His next shot – another triple with 3:21 to play in the quarter – gave the Pistons their first lead. Grant made 3 of 6 from the arc but was 1 of 9 on 2-point shots.

The Pistons led by six before Houston’s buzzer beater to end the third quarter cut the lead to four, then another spate of Pistons turnovers – they committed nine in the first quarter as Houston built a lead that reached 20 four minutes into the second quarter – enabled Houston to retake an eight-point lead with five minutes to play.

“I don’t know if it’s sluggish from being emotionally drunk from the other night,” Casey said, a reference to Wednesday’s overtime loss to Atlanta when the Pistons lost a 17-point lead in the final seven minutes of regulation play. “The excuse is not even important. If we’re going to build a winning program, we’ve got to come out every night with our guns blazing, ready to roll.”

Wayne Ellington’s guns continue ablaze, at least. The veteran, moved into the starting lineup by Casey in response to a string of slow starts that he helped remedy until Friday, hit 6 of 10 from the 3-point arc to account for all of his 18 points. Ellington has hit 21 of 38 triples over his last four games and is now shooting 48.4 percent from the 3-point arc this season.

“I love when I have some shooters out there,” Wright said of playing alongside Ellington. “It makes it easier for the rest of us. They have to stay more attached to him and it opens the lane up for a guy like me to drive a lot. It’s been good to see him find his groove.”

The Pistons finished 15 of 32 from the arc – they set a franchise record by making at least 10 3-pointers for a 14th straight game – and that kept them in the game on a night they shot poorly overall (37.8 percent), wound up with 19 turnovers (for 25 Houston points) and missed 12 of 37 free throws, including four straight in the final two minutes.

“It always seems like it’s those last free throws,” Casey said. “But it was so many things before that. If we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to make sure we do the little things to start the game. For whatever reason, tonight we didn’t have a good start.”