Pistons ‘very, very frustrated’ as buzzer beater leaves them asking questions
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Blake Griffin has played 623 NBA games, playoffs included, but none quite like Saturday’s.
“Proud of how hard we played,” he began, measuring his words. “We fought. And due to circumstances out of our control, we lost that game. Obviously, we had bad plays down the stretch. We did things here and there. But that game was … unlike any game I’ve been a part of.”
The Pistons led nearly wire to wire, taking a lead midway through the first quarter that surged as high as 14 points and was still at 12 midway through the fourth quarter. Then Buddy Hield got hot – hotter, rather. He’d scored 20 points through three quarters on 8 of 12 shooting and 3 of 5 from the 3-point arc.
In the last 3:26, though, he scored 15 points. On one of his misses, Willie Cauley-Stein dunked the rebound.
But it was Hield’s game-winner – a triple from the left wing at the buzzer off of a sideline out-of-bounds play with 3.4 seconds to go, shot off of one foot – that had the Pistons muttering.
Hield caught the inbounds pass and appeared to put the ball down while losing control of the dribble, a bobble that wound up working in his favor. Hield had come around a screen from Cauley-Stein and the Pistons, correctly guessing the play would be run to him, intended for Zaza Pachulia and Reggie Bullock, guarding Cauley-Stein, to trap Hield.
Reggie Jackson, guarding inbounds passer Bogdan Bogdanovic, was also near Hield. But when Hield appeared to lose control of his dribble, both Bullock and Jackson instinctively took a step toward the ball. And when Hield collected the ball, neither was between Hield and the basket. He whirled to his right, split the defense with another dribble and launched the ball, which cut cleanly through the net as the horn blared.
“Fumbling the ball, taking a controlled dribble to gather the ball, picking it up with two hands and then taking another dribble definitely works to your advantage,” Griffin said. “But that was par for the course tonight.”
Griffin was assessed a technical foul in the first half and also at the center of a delay of game call against the Pistons as he grew increasingly frustrated with the tenor of the game.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been a part of a game like that,” he said. “Very, very frustrated. I’m almost at a loss for words at what happened.”
He wasn’t alone.
“It’s tough to accept this kind of loss,” Zaza Pachulia said. “You’re working so hard for 48 minutes, coming off a back to back, having a couple of guys down. Gave ourselves a chance to win the game and last possession – I think we did a good job trapping Buddy – and then he picks up the ball and dribbles again. I thought that was an illegal play. You can’t dribble twice.”
The Pistons were playing the Kings for the second time in nine days without a key player – it was Griffin last week at Sacramento, Andre Drummond this time as he was in NBA concussion protocol after taking an elbow to the face in Friday’s win over Miami – and at a disadvantage in playing a back to back against a rested team.
Griffin scored 38 points and Pachulia logged a season-high 35 minutes in Drummond’s stead, grabbing 12 rebounds to help the Pistons to a 46-39 advantage even without the NBA’s leading rebounder. Ish Smith also missed the game after feeling tightness in the groin muscle that caused him to miss 19 games before returning at Utah on Monday.
The Pistons got another strong game from Luke Kennard with 19 off the bench, but he banged his knee and had to leave the game in the fourth quarter when the Pistons offense bogged down. Five straight empty possessions enabled an 11-0 Sacramento run to nearly erase its 12-point deficit. Hield – who hit 4 of 4 from the 3-point arc in the fourth quarter – put the Kings ahead on a triple with 1:11 left before Griffin regained the lead for the Pistons 15 seconds later.
Each time came up empty on its next possession, the Pistons winding the clock down to nothing as Reggie Jackson’s 19-footer bounced off to set up Sacramento’s last gasp.
“We had three guys around him,” Dwane Casey said. “He split between two of them, had daylight to see the rim and he just threw it up there. With the time that was there, he wasn’t going to have enough time to make another play. That was our scheme we had going. At 3.4 seconds, we’ve got to be disciplined and not let him split us – come together, shoulder to shoulder, and not let him see daylight.”