This time, it’s a bad 3 minutes with the starters on the floor as Pistons drop 3rd straight
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TORONTO – A bad three minutes, another deluge of 3-pointers and a three-game losing streak. There’s the story of Monday’s loss to the team that more and more looks like the class of the Eastern Conference.
While Stan Van Gundy’s bench had been dominated in the first two games out of the All-Star break, losses to Boston and Charlotte, the 123-94 loss to Toronto – 25-5 at home and 42-17 overall – was encapsulated by a 2:40 stretch early in the third quarter when a six-point deficit erupted to a 20-point deficit in the span of seven possessions while Van Gundy’s starters were playing as a unit.
“You can give up 6-0 runs, 8-0 runs, 10-2 runs, but 14-, 16-nothing runs, that’s tough to overcome,” Van Gundy said. “Really tough to overcome. And it does start to spiral downhill because psychologically with players, it’s like, ‘oh, bleep, here we go again.’ So we’ve got to overcome that a little bit and toughen up and keep playing. I thought they tried to do that tonight, but I think it shows up in you’re a little slow getting back, you’re a little slow closing out.”
And those two things – slow to get back, slow to close to shooters – proved lethal against another hot-shooting opponent. The Pistons have given up a season high of 17 3-pointers made three times in their last eight games, matching the three times they surrendered that many in the first 52 games. In the past three games, it’s been 17, 16 and 17.
“It’s frustrating,” Reggie Bullock said. “We’ve got to close out harder, but when teams are hitting shots and we’re trying to be in the gaps and close out at the same time, it’s tough. But it’s a part of the game that a professional player should be able to handle. We were picking up people in transition, but we weren’t picking up the best shooters on their team.”
Kyle Lowry wriggled free to launch eight triples and hit six of them, nearly matching the seven triples the Pistons made as a team. The Pistons lost by 29 and were outscored by 30, 51-21, from the 3-point line.
“We’ve just got to have more of a sense of urgency,” James Ennis said. “Just getting back in transition and getting matched up. We’ve got to do a better job of getting back and communicating early so people can match up and not give up threes like that.”
Van Gundy teams are traditionally among the NBA’s best at limiting the number of 3-point attempts, but the Pistons have suddenly become an easy mark. Over the 10 previous games coming into Monday, a tough back to back after losing on Sunday at Charlotte, opponents had averaged 35.1 triples a game, which ranks 29th in the NBA over that stretch. Toronto launched 38.
“We’ve got to get back and matched up in transition, which we didn’t do tonight,” Van Gundy said. “And I just didn’t think we did a good enough job closing out. Sometimes we’d get one closeout and then the second guy wouldn’t get the closeout, but we didn’t do a good job closing to their shooters. We’ve giving them rhythm threes. They were just stepping right into them.”
Van Gundy tweaked his rotation again, going with a different set of backup guards – Dwight Buycks and Luke Kennard – after Jameer Nelson and Langston Galloway were on the floor as the Pistons saw a six-point deficit blow up to a 23-point hole in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. Kennard struggled, going scoreless while missing all four shots in his 16 minutes, and Van Gundy expressed concern for a lack of aggressiveness at both ends that left him groping for answers.
But Buycks, he said, probably earned more playing time by scoring 12 points to go with four assists and just one turnover in nearly 19 minutes behind Ish Smith.
The loss further dims the Pistons hopes of making a playoff run. With 22 games left and 14 of them on the road, their margin for error has become razor thin. How do they go from their current tailspin to the sort of dominant run they’ll need to push back into playoff contention?
“That’s a great question and that’s my job,” Van Gundy said. “As Harry Truman said, the buck stops here. If I had found the answer, then we would be pulling out of it. I do know that a lot of it just comes down to simple things. Run back. Close out. Make it tougher on people. You can’t hang your heads and feel sorry for yourself.”