Pistons, minus Griffin & Drummond again, burned early and late in loss to Wizards

DETROIT – There’s an old saying in the NBA that isn’t bulletproof but holds up pretty well: How you start, it goes, is how you finish.

Well, Washington started by making 17 of 21 shots in the first quarter and finished by making 14 of 18 in the fourth. Add that up and it’s 31 of 39 or a tidy 79.5 percent. In those two quarters, the Wizards – losers of four straight games and 7-17 before Monday’s tipoff – scored 80 points.

That was enough for a 133-119 win over the Pistons, the most points a Pistons team has given up in regulation since 1995 – just before the advent of the dreaded Teal Era.

“You give a team 43 points in the first quarter, that’s the game,” Dwane Casey said. “You let a team see the ball go through the basket … that team has been struggling. All they needed was us to come out the way we played. We didn’t come out with the same disposition we had against Houston” – a 115-107 road win on Saturday in their last game – “and in this league when you do that, bad things are going to happen.”

The game began and ended with one other ominous similarity for the Pistons: the absence of both Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.

Griffin underwent a precautionary MRI, Casey said before the game, on the sore left knee that caused him to sit out the second half of that uplifting win at Houston. It’s the same knee on which Griffin underwent knee surgery last April, the one that caused him to miss key late-season games and the first two games of the playoffs. He sat out the first 10 games this season and has now missed 13 of the season’s 27 games.

Drummond, meanwhile, missed his second straight game with the lingering effects of eye irritation from an allergic reaction to avocado contracted during the team’s trip to Mexico City last week. Drummond’s left eye still won’t tolerate the insertion of his contact lens.

The Wizards took their absence as carte blanche to attack at will, spread the floor and bomb away from the 3-point arc. For all of Washington’s issues, scoring isn’t one of them. The Wizards came in as the No. 5 offensive team in the NBA and Casey feared the Pistons might not be as alert to their potency as they were for James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

“I take responsibility,” he said. “I didn’t warm ’em hard enough to come out ready to play. That this team was going to come out like wet hens and ready to attack us and they did. They did a good job of coming out and putting their foot on the pedal. The first and fourth quarters were indicative of our approach.”

Bradley Beal continued the murderer’s row of scoring stars the Pistons have encountered, following Luka Doncic and Harden. Beal finished with 35 points and 10 assists but his shooting line (12 of 24) actually dragged down his team’s efficiency. The Wizards hit 55.7 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from the 3-point line.

The Pistons fell behind by 16 early in the second quarter, then pulled within six at halftime and within two midway through the fourth quarter. But they never allowed themselves the chance to take the lead because Washington kept raining baskets on them.

“We couldn’t get stops,” said Markieff Morris, whose 22 points as Griffin’s stand-in matched Derrick Rose for team high. “We couldn’t really get stops all game. They scored 133 points, so it just wasn’t in the fourth. They figured out how to get their best players the ball. Brad had a great game, his teammates hit some shots in the fourth and we just couldn’t figure that out.”

Without Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons were light in the frontcourt. When Thon Maker picked up three fouls in only seven first-half minutes, they were further stretched. Christian Wood wound up playing nearly 29 minutes off of the bench, Morris nearly 33 – well above their norms.

No matter who was in the lineup, Griffin’s IQ and defensive communication and Drummond’s menacing rim protection were sorely missed.

“We came out slow,” Wood admitted. “First quarter, they put up 40-something points, which can’t happen. I think our defense was not good today. We’ve got to pick it up and be better next game.”

The black cloud that’s hovered over the Pistons season is injuries with 45 games now lost to them among their four most prominent players: Griffin (13), Rose (five), Drummond (two) and Reggie Jackson (25). It’s cost them a number of games they figured to win. The Pistons are now 0-7 against three likely Eastern Conference lottery teams: Charlotte (0-3), Washington (0-2) and Chicago (0-2).

Casey knows the cost of missing those players but fights back at any hint of resignation over their fate.

“Our margin for error to win in this league is very small and you take out two guys like Blake and (Drummond), whoever’s out there has got to do his job,” he said. “We can give every excuse – who’s here, who’s not playing. Same thing happened in Houston. Everybody’s happy in Mudville then. So why can’t we come and have the same disposition, same attitude, approach the next night? You’ve got to come out with that attack mentality again. I guess I have to make it more of an emphasis than we did. We definitely warmed them of what was about to happen tonight and – lo and behold – it did.”