Pistons sag with Griffin on bench as another early lead zapped in loss to Spurs
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Three quick observations from Monday night’s 119-107 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Little Caesars Arena
NOT ENOUGH HELP – Blake Griffin spent six minutes on the bench in the first half. The Pistons were outscored 18-2. That’s a problem. Between injuries messing with Dwane Casey’s rotation and continued shooting woes – the Pistons rank 29th in true shooting percentage, the major reason they’re the 24th-ranked offense – the Pistons simply aren’t getting enough offensive production to stay afloat. They got off to a strong start, leading by 12 in the first quarter when they scored 31 points and shot 52 percent, but that lead was gone by the time Griffin re-entered the lineup five minutes into the second quarter. San Antonio built its lead to 13 in the second quarter and to 16 in the third. The Pistons pulled within seven points early in the fourth quarter, but the Spurs went on a 10-3 run to push the lead back to 14 with seven minutes left. It’s asking a lot of a struggling offense to make up that gap in such a narrow window and the Pistons never got it below double figures again. Griffin had another superb game with 34 points while also leading the Pistons with eight assists. Andre Drummond had 19 points and 14 rebounds.
HANDS TIED – Dwane Casey’s options are limited by injuries, but the Pistons suddenly have a second-unit issue. For the second straight game, the Pistons squandered an impressive start by struggling mightily with the bench on the floor to start the second quarter. It was a 14-0 run on Saturday by Utah to nearly erase an 18-point deficit and it was a 15-0 run by San Antonio that started late in the first quarter to turn a nine-point Pistons lead into a six-point deficit. The Pistons didn’t score on their first seven possessions of the second quarter with a unit that Casey attempted to help by keeping Andre Drummond on the court for the game’s first 17 minutes. With Ish Smith and Zaza Pachulia still out, much of the playmaking is missing. Jose Calderon has long been an effective point guard, but his 41 percent career 3-point percentage has plunged to 18 percent and he’s 37, so it would be unrealistic for him to shoulder the burden of creating possession after possession. Casey tweaked things in the second half, sprinkling bench players into the mix earlier in the third quarter, then got solid play out of all-bench unit to start the fourth quarter – one that had Glenn Robinson III on for Langston Galloway to go Jon Leuer, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson and Calderon. Kennard and Leuer scored 10 points apiece but Calderon’s one 3-point basket were the bench’s only other points.
TRUE TO FORM – San Antonio doesn’t shoot 3-pointers often, but the Spurs shoot them exceptionally well. In fact, the Spurs hold the unique distinction of being the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team (.398 coming into Monday’s game) and its least prolific (24.4 attempts). The Pistons are nearly at the other end of the spectrum, shooting the seventh-most triples in the league (33.6 per game) despite ranking 28th in accuracy (.336). The Spurs finished 7 of 20 but got good mileage out of their threes in building their 16-point lead in the third quarter, hitting 6 of 13 at that point, before falling off late. San Antonio beats the analytics – which have persuaded virtually every NBA team to seek ways to create more 3-point shots and virtually eliminate any shot except for threes and layups – because the Spurs employ two of the most deadly mid-range jump shooters among a shrinking pool of such players, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. DeRozan hit 12 of 21 shots for 26 points to go with nine assists, while Aldridge hit 9 of 12 shots for 25 points. The Pistons’ best 3-point shooter, Reggie Bullock (.403) had a tough night, going 3 of 12 from the arc as the team finished 9 of 32. Blake Griffin hit 2 of 5 and Luke Kennard 2 of 4.