Smith returns, but Pistons run out of gas in the second half to lose at Utah
Three quick observations from Monday night’s 100-94 loss to the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena
SECOND-HALF FADE – A tale of two halves. Utah scored a quick basket on the game’s first possession, then the Pistons rattled off nine straight points and led for the rest of the first half and by as many as 12 points. They took a nine-point lead by scoring the first basket of the second half, then Utah came back with a 13-0 run. The Pistons regained their footing enough to swap the lead a few times, but their shooting plummeted in the second half when they scored just 35 points and shot 30 percent overall and 22 from the 3-point arc. One big difference: free throws. Utah outscored the Pistons 26-13 at the line by holding a 36-16 advantage in attempts with the Pistons whistled for nine more fouls. The Pistons were razor sharp offensively in scoring 59 points in the first half in large measure because they were nearly flawless with the basketball. The Pistons didn’t commit a first-quarter turnover and, in fact, committed only one – on a Jon Leuer moving screen – in the game’s first 22 minutes. They had three at halftime and finished with 11.
ISH RETURNS – Ish Smith’s value to the Pistons was made pretty clear by the 5-14 record they compiled in his absence. Smith played 19 minutes and finished with eight points and two assists, resuming his role as backup point guard and leader of a second unit that floundered without him. How much Dwane Casey values him was made evident when he staggered his second-half rotation to allow Smith to enter with less than six minutes to play and finish the game. Rookie Khyri Thomas finished alongside him and guarded Donovan Mitchell down the stretch.The strong offensive first half for the Pistons was keyed by their bench, which contributed 25 points and hit 10 of 17 shots and 5 of 9 3-pointers. The bench wasn’t as productive in the second half, finishing with 31 points. Smith, who played in 163 of 164 games in his first two seasons with the Pistons, suffered a torn adductor muscle in a Dec. 5 loss at Milwaukee. Jose Calderon took his minutes off the bench but Calderon, a career 41 percent 3-point shooter over 14 seasons, connected on just 20.5 percent of his triples over the first half of the season.
HANGOVER EFFECT – That the Pistons didn’t look nearly as active at either end in the second half maybe shouldn’t have come as a big surprise given the emotional and physical pitch of Saturday’s win over the Clippers. Desperate for a win after four straight losses and motivated by the hype surrounding Blake Griffin’s return, three Pistons starters – Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson – played more than 40 minutes. Drummond, after a 17-point, 21-rebound game against the Clippers, finished with 15 and 13 while Utah’s Rudy Gobert put up gaudy numbers (18 points, 25 rebounds). Jackson, who hit 3 of 5 shots in the first quarter of Saturday’s win but then went 1 of 13 in playing by far the most minutes he’d logged all season, started 2 of 10, hit his next three shots, but finished 5 of 15 against the Jazz. Griffin, coming off a 44-point game, didn’t score until past the midway point of the second quarter and finished with 19 points to lead the Pistons. Utah finished with a whopping 55-38 rebounding edge, another sign of likely fatigue.