Three quick observations from Friday night’s 113-111 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesars Arena
BLAKE’S BACK – Blake Griffin, bought out by the Pistons earlier this month and signed immediately by the Nets to bolster their pursuit of the franchise’s first NBA title, returned to Little Caesars Arena for the first time since his departure and … well, things went sideways fast. Griffin checked in with four minutes left in the first quarter and quickly scored seven points before the quarter ended. During the first timeout after he entered the game, a tribute video was played on the center-court video board. As it ended and the crowd, capped at 750, applauded, Griffin stepped out of the Nets timeout huddle to recognize their applause, tapping his chest and waving to them. Early in the second quarter, Griffin and Pistons rookie Isaiah Stewart, jostling after a missed free throw, had a little dustup that resulted in Stewart being charged with a flagrant-two foul – meaning an automatic ejection – and Griffin being hit with a technical. Griffin finished with 17 points in 20 minutes. The Nets led for almost the entire first three quarters and by as many as 13 points, but the Pistons took a one-point lead late in the third quarter. It was tied at 82 early in the fourth quarter when a Griffin 3-pointer sparked a 10-0 run. A few minutes later, Griffin dunked a James Harden lob and stared down the Pistons bench as he slowly ran past their bench. He and Saddiq Bey jostled each other after Griffin got blown by and grabbed Bey from behind. The Pistons were still 10 down with seven minutes to play, but got a spark from Frank Jackson – he didn’t enter the game until the start of the fourth quarter, then scored 14 points in the first seven minutes – and tied the game with 2:19 to play. Jeff Green hit a big 3-pointer with 59 seconds left to put the Nets ahead by five. A Bey steal with 3.3 seconds left and the Pistons trailing by two points gave them a last chance to win or tie and newcomer Corey Joseph had a chance at a tying layup but it rimmed off at the buzzer. It was a chippy game with 40 free throw shots in the first half and another 41 in the second with the Pistons going 34 of 47 at the foul line. The Nets hit 5 of 6 from the 3-point arc in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter after going 7 of 21 over the first three quarters. Harden played the entire second half and 42 minutes total, finishing with 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Jerami Grant finished with 19 for the Pistons. Bey and Frank Jackson added 14 each.
DOUBLE DEBUT – Nearly two weeks after the March 13 trade that brought Hamidou Diallo to Detroit, he made his Pistons debut. Sidelined since late February by a groin injury, Diallo came on with four minutes left in the first quarter to guard James Harden – welcome to Detroit – played 19 minutes and wound up with six points and two rebounds. The athleticism he scored on his first basket, a knifing drive down the right side of the lane, encapsulated a large part of his appeal to the Pistons. His second basket came on a similarly athletic attack from the wing to the rim. He’s a defense-first player with a nearly 7-foot wingspan and 45-inch vertical jump. Corey Joseph, acquired at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline and cleared to play less than two hours before tipoff as the Pistons awaited completion of Delon Wright’s physical examination in Sacramento as the other half of the trade, also debuted. Joseph, who played two seasons under Dwane Casey in Toronto, entered midway through the second quarter and gave the Pistons nine points in 18 minutes.
A NEW MIX – With Hamidou Diallo added to the mix and the Pistons missing Dennis Smith Jr. – he was out with tightness of the lower back – the Pistons had yet another new look with their second unit. It consisted of Josh Jackson and Diallo on the wings with Saben Lee and Corey Joseph taking turns at point guard – Rodney McGruder started there, returning from an elbow injury – and Sekou Doumbouya and Isaiah Stewart up front. That’s a team challenged to generate points from the 3-point line. Jackson is the only one who shoots them at any volume and he’s a 28 percent shooter for the season who went 1 of 6 from the arc against the Nets. Doumbouya has struggled from the 3-point arc on the season, shooting 24.6 percent coming into the game. The Pistons bench, second in scoring in the NBA at 41.4 per game, scored 49 points against Brooklyn. Thanks to Frank Jackson’s 14-point outburst and 3 of 4 shooting from the 3-point arc, the bench managed to hit 4 of 14 from the arc.