This time, it’s a bad 3 minutes with the starters on the floor as Pistons drop 3rd straight

Andre Drummond finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds as the Pistons suffered their third straight loss in falling at Toronto.
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”


Three quick observations from Monday night’s 123-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre

1-A FEW BAD MINUTES – It wasn’t Stan Van Gundy’s bench that undermined the Pistons this time around, at least not to the degree it had in the first two games – losses to Boston and Charlotte – coming out of the All-Star break. The Pistons were within six points early in the third quarter when Toronto went on a 14-0 run as the Pistons went seven straight possessions without a point. It took just 2:40 of playing time and the game was essentially over as the Pistons lost their third straight and their sixth in the last seven and this time the run came with all five starters on the floor. While Toronto shot 52.5 percent, the Pistons spent most of the game shooting under 40 percent and finished at 38.3 percent. Toronto, now 25-5 at home and the top team in the Eastern Conference, comes to Little Caesars Arena next week. Andre Drummond finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds for the Pistons.

2-DANGER ZONE – The 3-point line, after benefitting the Pistons most of the season, has suddenly become an adversary. Though the Pistons came into the game ranked seventh in 3-point percentage at 37.2 per game, they’ve seen a decline since the trade for Blake Griffin cost them two of their best 3-point threats in Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. On the other end, though, opponents have been shooting an alarming number of triples. Over the 10 games coming into Monday night, teams were averaging 35.1 triples a game against the Pistons, which ranked them 29th in the league. Toronto attempted 37 to continue the trend. The Raptors rank No. 5 in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game at 32.4 but they launched 20 in the first half alone, when they made nine. Kyle Lowry hit 6 of 8 from the arc for 18 of his 20 points to lead Toronto’s 3-point offense. The Pistons give up 11.1 made 3-pointers a game for the season, but in their past 10 games the number jumped to 12.2 and this was the fourth time in the past eight games that they’d given up 16 or more. Of the six times the Pistons have given up 17 triples in a game this season – the high for their opponents – three of them have come in the past eight games.

3-MORE JUGGLING – Stan Van Gundy isn’t standing pat while his bench struggles. After a six-minute stint with backup guards Jameer Nelson and Langston Galloway saw the Pistons lose 17 points to Charlotte on Sunday, he went with Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks as the backups at Toronto. In talking about Kennard and Galloway before the game, Van Gundy indicated that he likely needed to pick one or the other and let it play out for a while. “I think a good part of this is one me. I think that they both have the feeling that they’ve got to make shots to stay on the floor and it’s hard to play that way. I think I’ve got to find one of them and go with them on a consistent basis. I think I’ve exacerbated their struggles a little bit.” Kennard didn’t have any luck breaking out of it, finishing scoreless on 0 of 4 shooting in 16 minutes. Buycks almost surely earned another crack at backing up Smith by finishgin with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes, though he hit just 3 of 11 shots. Galloway played mop-up minutes at point guard but didn’t attempt a shot in four minutes.

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