Pistons run out of gas, lose LA finale after beating Clips, Warriors

Reggie Jackson scored 18 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists as the Pistons lost to the Lakers to wrap up their road trip with a 2-1 record
Adam Pantozzi (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LOS ANGELES – The Pistons came thisclose to setting an NBA record they wanted no part of and it tells you as much about their 20-point loss to the Lakers as you need to know: They went nearly 42 minutes without a free throw and more than 47 with only one, which would have tied an all-time record. With 33 seconds left and both benches emptied, Eric Moreland shot and missed a pair.

And, yeah, there were a handful of plays where the Pistons felt they should have been shooting free throws. Tobias Harris, involved in the bulk of them, picked up a technical foul pleading his case in the second half. But the aggressor usually gets the benefit of the doubt on whistles and there was no mistaking the identity of Tuesday’s aggressor in the 113-93 Pistons defeat to put a damper on what had been a spectacular road trip.

“They just came out with a lot of energy. They came out and punched first,” said Reggie Jackson, one of the few Pistons to find anything offensively, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. “They found some rhythm, they got comfortable and then it was just hard to try to slow them down after that.”

The Lakers beat the Pistons inside (62 points in the paint), outside (12 of 26 from the 3-point line) and off the bench (52-30 scoring edge).

“We didn’t have the energy to run cuts. We had a lot of guys stopping the ball, dribbling the ball, pounding the ball. And we did not make plays,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We can go right down the list. Anything you bring up. We didn’t defend. We didn’t get back defensively. We didn’t protect the basket. We didn’t close on shooters. We didn’t handle the ball well. We didn’t move the ball. I mean, whatever you want to bring up. It was total and complete. There’s nothing we did well and they dominated us.”

The Pistons came back from 13 down in the third quarter to beat the then-unbeaten Clippers on Saturday to open the three-game trip, then from 14 down in the third quarter less than 24 hours later to beat the defending champion Warriors. They were in a similar spot against the Lakers – down 12 midway through the quarter, 15 to end it – but there was never the hint of a closing rally. The closest they came was 11 points on three occasions of the fourth quarter.

“We kept on pushing and trying to cut it and get back into the game,” said Harris, who matched Jackson’s 18 points. “But they just made too many shots. We weren’t able to get enough stops and, offensively, we weren’t in the flow all game. At that point, it’s really tough to try to get back into it and try to cut the lead.”

Even if the Pistons were a little back on their heels to start the game, they trailed by just three to start the second quarter. But backup big men Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma sparked the Lakers, Randle – an undersized center – taking first Henry Ellenson and then Jon Leuer off the dribble and Kuzma, a Flint native and Utah rookie, hitting 4 of 4 from the 3-point line. They combined for33 points on just 17 shots.

“I thought that’s when the game really opened up,” Van Gundy said. “Kuzma and Randle took Henry and Jon apart. They just went at ’em and took ’em apart. That opened up the game and then we were never able to really make a run back of any note whatsoever.”

Van Gundy pulled Ellenson after nine minutes and went with Anthony Tolliver then and again in the second half. Leuer ended the game with a sprained left ankle, though X-rays were negative.

Van Gundy sounded the warning after Tuesday’s shootaround, expecting the Lakers to take the fight to his team and hoping for a firm response.

“Disappointing that we weren’t mature enough to be ready to play this game better than we were,” he said. “That was disappointing. Hopefully we learn from it as we move on throughout the year.”

But they all would’ve taken a 2-1 road trip if it had been offered as they boarded their charter flight last Thursday and the Pistons come home for a five-game home stand with a 5-3 record, 3-2 in road games.

“Wish we could’ve gotten another one,” Jackson said. “Trip just shows us how good we can be, but also a game like tonight humbles us again and lets us know we have to come out and compete together each and every night on both ends of the floor so that we can reach our ultimate potential.”

“What we can take away is definitely a learning experience,” Harris said. “Two games that we really dictated how we were going to play and one game where we let the other team dictate how they wanted to play. It’s something we have to be able to understand and to be a really good and successful team we have to be the team that’s dominant from the start and dictating the pace of the game and the intensity of the game.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 113-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center

1-NO COMEBACK THIS TIME – Stan Van Gundy might not give the Pistons a day off again this season. On Tuesday morning, before the Pistons played the Lakers, he fretted about the response the last time the Pistons didn’t practice the day before a game – last Sunday, after a back-to-back split at Washington and New York – and came out flat in a loss to Philadelphia the following night. After a back-to-back sweep of the Clippers and Warriors over the weekend, the Pistons didn’t practice Monday – and then played a similar type of game. They didn’t shoot well – 44 percent overall, 31 percent from the 3-point line – but that was a likely byproduct of a low-energy offensive game where the ball didn’t move as it had in the wins over the Clippers and Warriors. The bigger issue came on the other end, though, as the Lakers piled up 62 points in the paint and shot 49.5 percent overall and 46 from the 3-point line with 17 fast-break points. The Pistons didn’t shoot their first free throw until 6:25 remained in the game and finished 1 of 3 after Eric Moreland missed a pair with 33 seconds to play. There were a few calls that could have sent them there earlier – three or four on Tobias Harris alone – but the lack of free throws was also a statement about the level of force the Pistons played with after coming back from 13- and 14-point deficits to win the first two games of the road trip. Harris and Reggie Jackson finished with 18 points each for the Pistons.

2-BATTLE OF THE BENCHES – If the Pistons are going to be a playoff team this year, their bench is going to be a big part of it. That goes for every team, but the Pistons need their bench to give them consistent advantages. It didn’t happen for them against the Lakers, who wound up with a 52-30 bench scoring edge and were led by Julius Randle’s 17 points and Kyle Kuzma’s 16. At Golden State, despite a combined 84 points on 66 percent shooting from Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Pistons won because of an overwhelming bench edge. The three players who played the most that night off the bench – Ish Smith (plus-11), Reggie Bullock (plus-26) and Anthony Tolliver (plus-21) – all posted big plus/minus edges. But nobody had much going off Stan Van Gundy’s bench against the Lakers outside of Ish Smith, who finished with 12 points and shot 6 of 9. The Lakers also rely heavily on their bench, leading the league in bench points last season at 47.1 and coming into Tuesday’s game third this season. The Lakers leading (Jordan Clarkson) and third-leading (Kuzma, the rookie from Flint by way of Utah) scorers for the season come off their bench. The Pistons bench had outscored the opposition’s in six of their seven games coming into Tuesday with a plus-8.7 points per game advantage.

3-HE LOOKS FAMILIAR – The guy wearing No. 1 for the Lakers, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was assumed to be the Pistons long-term answer at shooting guard. But when his notoriously aggressive agent, Rich Paul, went in search of a maximum contract offer sheet that never came for his restricted free agent and the Pistons unexpectedly were presented the opportunity to trade for Avery Bradley, things took a radical turn. Bradley’s new teammates point to him as a big reason for their commitment at the defensive end this season and it doesn’t hurt that he came into Tuesday hitting nearly half of his 3-point attempts. Caldwell-Pope had 13 points, six rebounds and two assists in his first game against the only NBA team he’d known before this season. Bradley had a rough night, shooting 4 of 17 overall and 0 of 5 from the 3-point line after he knocked down 5 of 7 triples two nights earlier in the win at Golden State.

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