Spurs throw Pistons off of their game as hot streak grinds to a halt
SAN ANTONIO – The Pistons came to the south central Texas plains in possession of the NBA’s No. 1 offense over their last eight games – a solid reason for their 7-1 record over that span. Their 115.9 points a game for February represented their highest-scoring month since they called the Silverdome home in November 1987. In San Antonio, they were encountering the NBA’s 23rd ranked defense.
The ingredients were there, in other words, to notch another big road win in a place where wins have been precious for the Pistons – and, well, for everybody else – for the last quarter century.
But Dwane Casey got the Spurs team he feared he’d get, one playing its first home game following a 1-7 rodeo trip that had pushed San Antonio to the brink in the playoff race.
“They played desperate and I don’t think we did the entire game,” Casey said after the 105-93 loss. “We played in spurts, but we didn’t play desperate as long and as much as they did.”
The one thing the Pistons did well: shoot 3-pointers. They hit 15 of 38 for 39.5 percent – or right at the 39.9 percent they’ve shot for February, second in the NBA. Inside the arc, it was another story – a horror story. The Pistons hit just 21 of 51 inside the paint and 0 of 11 between the paint and the 3-point line or 33.9 percent on everything except 3-pointers.
It wasn’t just tough luck, either. Before the game, Casey talked about the reasons the Pistons had gone from a bottom-10 offensive team to No. 1 over the past three weeks. Harder cuts, better screens, sharper execution. Against San Antonio’s physicality – its desperation – those things were blunted.
“We call a play and guys couldn’t get open,” Casey said. “You’ve got to work to get open. It’s a wrestling match, a butt-kicking contest to get open. If your will is not there and is not strong enough, you’re not going to get open against a team playing as hard and as all out as they were tonight.”
Andre Drummond finished with 17 rebounds and four steals, but shot 5 of 14. Blake Griffin was 3 of 7 from the arc but 3 of 11 inside of it. Zaza Pachulia and Thon Maker, the two big men off of the bench, were a combined 0 of 8.
“They’ve got a lot of length down there,” Langston Galloway said. “Trying to get to the basket is difficult, trying to finish around them. We were trying to get transition buckets to keep it easy for us. They shot 52 percent. That’s tough to beat a team when they shoot 52 percent.”
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the game was that Casey’s bench – so good in picking up impressive wins over Miami and Indiana in the last two outings – managed to turn a sluggish first half into a second half in which it fueled a comeback from 14 down late in the third quarter to put the Pistons in position to win. By the time Casey got Drummond and Griffin back with 7:46 left, the Pistons were within five.
“It’s good, but we’ve got to put together a full game,” Luke Kennard said. “If we put together a better end of the first (quarter) through the second, we could’ve won that game. A lot of that’s on us. We’ve got to be ready as soon as we get in the game and that’s on me, too. I was kind of sluggish to start when I came in and took a couple of tough shots. We’ve got to be locked in physically and mentally when we come in.”
Galloway scored all 11 of his point after halftime, Ish Smith 7 of his 9. The bench, after a seven-point first half, scored 22 in the second. It hasn’t been often that Casey’s bench has managed to pull itself out of a tailspin mid-game.
“They turned it around. They got us back in the game,” Casey said. “I credit them for that, but everybody’s got to pull their weight in a game like this. We knew San Antonio was going to be a hornet’s nest. We rose to the occasion in spurts but not enough.”
For all of that, they were within two points with five minutes left when the Spurs got the last spurt they’d need, a 9-0 run.
The good news for the Pistons was that Brooklyn lost at home to Washington and Charlotte gave up a lead to lose to Houston. So the Pistons remained in the No. 7 playoff spot, the same 1½ games behind Brooklyn as they began the night and the same 1½ games in front of Charlotte. Miami, after blowing a 24-point lead, got two Dwyane Wade triples in the last 15 seconds to beat Golden State by a point and cut their deficit to two games behind the Pistons.
“They outrebounded us,” Casey said. “They beat us in every area there was. If we’re serious about doing something in the playoffs, getting into the playoffs, that’s the level we’ve got to play at. Tonight should teach us a hard lesson.”