Three quick observations from Friday night’s 103-102 loss to the Houston Rockets at Little Caesars Arena
BUZZER BEATEN – When Dwane Casey talks about not coming out with the right disposition, it’s nights like this one he has in mind. The Pistons committed nine first-quarter turnovers and gave up the most desirable shots in basketball – layups and open corner 3-pointers – with far too little resistance in falling behind by 13 points after a quarter and by 20 early in the second quarter. They were the better team for the rest of the night, but that start cost them what could have easily been a win. It still might have been, but Jerami Grant’s basket at the buzzer – after a whistle had blown to indicate a foul on Houston’s P.J. Tucker on his drive – was disallowed when a replay review determined the foul and basket both came after time had expired. The Pistons got back in it by outscoring Houston 22-10 over the last eight-plus minutes of the first half and used some hot third-quarter shooting to take their first lead of the game. But another run of turnovers early in the fourth quarter enabled Houston to regain a five-point lead. The Pistons missed four straight critical free throws in the final two minutes, the first three when trailing by two points, and finished 25 of 37 at the line. The Pistons hit 7 of 12 from the 3-point arc in a 34-point third quarter to go up by four as they set a franchise record by making at least 10 3-pointers in a 14th consecutive game, finishing 15 of 32. Blake Griffin’s triple with 29 seconds to play pulled them within a point and then Victor Oladipo missed a 3-pointer after the Rockets ran the shot clock down to set up the last possession. Wayne Ellington continued to sizzle from the 3-point arc, hitting 6 of 10 for all of his 18 points. Ellington is now 21 of 38 over his last four games. His backcourt partner, Delon Wright, played well with 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Rookie Isaiah Stewart had a strong 22 minutes off the bench with seven points, nine boards and two blocked shots while visibly frustrating Houston’s DeMarcus Cousins on a few occasions.
FORWARD PUNCH – Jerami Grant was overdue for a struggle. After leading the Pistons in scoring for 13 straight games in which he’d scored at least 22 points and coming off a career-high 32 points, Grant extended those streaks – but had to do a lot of work late to do so. All five of Grant’s first-half points came at the foul line as he went 0 of 6 from the field, only one of the five a 3-point attempt. Averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game despite a career-high usage rate of 26.5 percent, Grant committed two first-half turnovers and finished with three. His first basket came at 5:08 of the third quarter, a 3-pointer, after he missed his first eight shots. That basket pulled the Pistons within four points, the closest they’d been since trailing 6-2 in the opening minutes. Grant’s next shot produced his next basket, another 3-pointer, and that one gave the Pistons a 72-71 lead with 3:21 left in the third quarter. Grant finished with 21 points, hitting 4 of 15 overall, 3 of 6 at the 3-point arc and 10 of 13 at the foul line. He added eight rebounds and three steals. Blake Griffin also had a hard time denting the scoring column, scoring his first points of the game at 6:24 of the third quarter on a 3-pointer after he’d missed his first four shots. Griffin finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
NO TRIUMPHANT RETURN – Christian Wood enjoyed a breakout season with the Pistons last year, going from winning the final roster spot over veteran Joe Johnson and playing on a non-guaranteed contract to finishing the season as the team’s leading scorer over the final month. Wood signed a three-year, $41 million contract with the Rockets in November and picked up where he left off, averaging 23.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in his first 12 games. But Wood wasn’t with the Rockets at Little Caesars Arena, staying behind after suffering a sprained ankle in Houston’s loss to Phoenix on Wednesday. Wood came into the game averaging 10.4 more points per game than he did a season ago, the second-biggest jump across the NBA. Who’s ahead of him? Jerami Grant, whose 25.4 per-game average is 13.4 more than he averaged a season ago.