‘A step in the right direction’ – battle-weary Pistons give Lakers 48 hard minutes
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LOS ANGELES – Nine days into a road trip, playing a back to back and their third game in four nights, missing enough players to constitute a very credible NBA lineup, the Pistons had every reason to accept their fate against a team Dwane Casey sees as the title favorite.
And that was before the Lakers opened up a 15-2 lead.
Yet there the Pistons were, after mounting two comebacks nobody saw coming, leading 92-91 with 4:51 to play.
The Lakers won and it was nearly midnight Eastern time when the game ended, so chances are even most Pistons fans are going to check the score and go on with their business and dismiss the possibility that an important step in the Casey era was taken on this Sunday night three time zones from home.
“I’m excited about it,” Casey said of the passion he saw from a team that could have easily claimed physical and emotional exhaustion for what they’ve endured this season and especially in the last few weeks. “It was a step in the right direction. Hard play against the top team in the league. Everything’s got to go right against the top team in the league and we played hard. We made just enough mistakes to allow them to get us.”
Derrick Rose finished with 28 points and he was critical in getting the game stabilized after that early Lakers onslaught. The Pistons trailed by a manageable nine points at halftime, then surged into the lead in the third quarter when Casey started Rose coming out of the locker room for the second straight game.
After getting blasted by a cumulative score of 108-59 in the first three losses to start the six-game road trip – to the Spurs, Jazz and Clippers – the Pistons outscored Golden State by six in Saturday’s win and the Lakers by 13 to take a four-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Lakers seemed to deliver a knockout punch with a 15-0 run to open the quarter, but the Pistons answered with their own 11-0 run and eventually took the lead on two Rose free throws.
“It’s whatever the team needs,” Rose said of second-half starts. “I’m here to do whatever. It’s up to Coach and the coaching staff. Whatever they see to tweak of make adjustments. Everybody’s riding behind whatever decision they make.”
“Derrick, he changes the game when he’s in there,” Casey said. “It’s a huge difference as far as when he’s in the game. I liked the way we played in the third quarter.”
The Pistons played again without Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, Markieff Morris and Reggie Jackson. Tony Snell departed early in the third quarter after playing an ineffective 13 minutes – scoreless with one rebound and only three shots – while suffering with a migraine headache.
“We played with urgency tonight,” Rose said. “We played as hard as we could. Certain plays, we wish we could take ’em back, but as far as the effort, I think we played as hard as we could.”
The statistic that jumps off of the box score was the 20 blocked shots by Los Angeles. The Lakers are the NBA’s No. 1 team in that category but 20 – the most in an NBA game since Toronto blocked 20 Golden State shots in 2001 – nearly tripled their average of 7.1 a game. Anthony Davis swatted eight, JaVale McGee six and Dwight Howard five. Lost in the shuffle: Andre Drummond blocked four shots to go with 12 points and 18 rebounds.
“They’re number one in the league and they showed that today,” said Christian Wood, who made his third career start – same for rookie Sekou Doumbouya – so he could match up with Davis while Doumbouya moved to small forward to be paired with LeBron James. “They do a great job of it.”
Casey pointed out Los Angeles’ shot-blocking acumen at the team’s morning walk-through and lamented the missed opportunities represented by having more than a quarter of the team’s 78 shot attempts rejected.
“We talked to our guys about kickouts,” he said. “We continue to go in there. Those 20 blocked shots are almost like 15 turnovers and (the Lakers) race to go the other way. We learn from it.”
“They have great length back there with Dwight, McGee and A.D.,” Rose said. “It’s something you rarely see, guys that athletic back there. But that’s why they’re on this team.”
The Pistons hung in despite their fatigue, their injuries and their missed opportunities on the strength of making 30 (of 35) free throws and hitting 11 of 26 from the 3-point arc. Rose (2 of 3), Langston Galloway (3 of 5, 13 points) and Svi Mykhailiuk (4 of 6, 14 points) combined to hit nine triples and score 55 of the bench’s 65 points. Bruce Brown played 27 minutes and finished with a team-best plus 17.
“I thought the resilience and the fight, the disposition we came out with …,” Casey said. “We’re down almost seven guys with Tony out. You don’t get any awards for participation in our league, so we’ve got to learn from it and continue to grow. But I like some of the habits we’re building, especially on the back to back against the top team, in my opinion, in the NBA.”