Pistons lose Drummond, Smith but come back to beat the Heat
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations on Friday night’s 98-93 win over the Miami Heat at Little Caesars Arena
SURVIVING – Just when the Pistons think they’re fully healthy … they’re not. In the span of a few first-quarter minutes, Ish Smith and Andre Drummond – before Smith’s December injury, the two most indestructible Pistons – were both lost for the game, and perhaps for longer than that, with injuries. The Pistons held a 14-point halftime lead after holding Miami to 39 first-half points, but were outscored 30-12 in the third quarter to fall behind. The Pistons shot 4 of 18 with five turnovers in the third quarter, while Miami hit 6 of 11 triples. The Pistons rebounded to take a fourth-quarter lead – up five with about four minutes to go – but the Heat pulled within one on Dwyane Wade’s driving layup with 41 seconds left before Zaza Pachulia’s tip with 27 seconds remaining pushed the lead back to three. Wade answered with another driving layup. After two Reggie Jackson free throws made it another three-point lead, the Pistons survived Wade’s tying 3-point attempt and Blake Griffin’s free throws with 3.9 seconds left sealed it. Without Drummond – and with Jon Leuer ill and Henry Ellenson still out with an ankle injury – Pachulia and Griffin were Dwane Casey’s only big men. Griffin played center when Pachulia needed to rest and Stanley Johnson (12 points, six rebounds) logged heavy minutes at power forward. Griffin led the Pistons with 32 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. The Heat, 29th in NBA in free-throw percentage, shot just 5 of 19 at the line.
OPTIONS AT POINT – Ish Smith checked in with 5:12 left in the first quarter and lasted 99 seconds before coming out and heading straight to the locker room with the same look of disgust he had on his face after tearing his right adductor muscle Dec. 5 at Milwaukee. The Pistons might have dodged a bullet, though, as the initial report on Smith was that he experienced tightness in the same area but it wasn’t believed that he reinjured the muscle. As a precaution, the Pistons held him out for the remainder of the game and it wouldn’t be surprising if they held him out at least for Saturday’s game with Sacramento. Dwane Casey at least has more options than he did in early December. One – now that Khyri Thomas has earned his trust – would be to use rookie Bruce Brown some at point guard. Another would be to use one of the newly signed point guards, Isaiah Whitenad and Kalin Lucas, both on two-way contracts and each available to the Pistons for up to 45 days between now and the late-March conclusion of the G League calendar. Jose Calderon, as he did during Smith’s 19-game absence over nearly six weeks, filled in for Smith and finished with three assists and two steals, taking just one shot in 12 minutes.
SWAN SONG – Unless the Pistons and Heat wind up as playoff opponents this spring, a long shot given their current records, Friday’s performance marked Dwyane Wade’s last appearance in Detroit. Loud applause broke out when Wade entered the game midway through the first quarter. Then Wade showed he still is the most dangerous player on Miami’s roster. Wade took over for Miami down the stretch, finishing with 20 points and eight assists. Though Wade has yet to start a game and has missed nine this season, he came into Friday as Miami’s third-leading scorer at 13.8 points in 25 minutes a game. Wade, who turned 37 on Thursday, is in his 16th season. When the Heat struggled to 39 first-half points, Wade posted an efficient eight points on 4 of 6 shooting, drawing “oohs” for a spin move and finish at the rim. The fifth pick in the decorated 2003 draft that saw the Pistons pick Darko Mlicic with the No. 2 pick, Wade is a three-time NBA champion and the 2006 Finals MVP. A 12-time All-Star, Wade carries a 22.2 career scoring average and led the NBA in 2008-09 with a 30.2 average.