‘This is a tough one’ – Pistons go flat in 4th as losing streak extends to 6

Blake Griffin’s 26 points led the Pistons but their offense went flat down the stretch in losing at Charlotte
Streeter Lecka (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHARLOTTE – It won’t count any more than the five losses that preceded it, but it’ll be a little tougher to wash away the sting.

“Yeah. It’s tough,” Langston Galloway said after the 108-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. “We’re up 10. We should close this game out. We should win this one going away. This is a tough one tonight. Tough one.”

Given their circumstances – five-game losing streak, still down two key players even after Stanley Johnson returned following a three-game absence, spotting Charlotte a 14-point first-half lead – the Pistons were on the brink of what felt like a springboard victory.

Their defense got shredded for 37 first-quarter points, but then gave up just 54 over the next 2½ quarters. They got back in the game in the second quarter, closing to within five at halftime, and then took it over with a dominant third quarter, one of their season’s most impressive. They outscored Charlotte 38-22 to lead by 11 going into the fourth quarter.

“I thought that stretch was beautiful,” said Dwane Casey, doing his level best to keep his positivity radiant despite the run of losses, injuries and tough breaks through a murderous stretch of schedule. “The key is we’ve got to get longer stretches of that. And for whatever reason the ball started sticking and stopped moving.”

Their offense went flat, fast and emphatically. It didn’t matter much, at first. The Pistons scored on just two of their first eight possessions, but Casey was able to ride with his second unit because they were still defending at a high level. The lead was 10 when Casey waved Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond back in the game with 6:23 left.

They would go nine straight possessions covering nearly six minutes before scoring again – and they needed Andre Drummond’s three-point play to tie the game after Charlotte’s 13-0 run ignited by Kemba Walker. Walker scored 12 points in the last five minutes. The Pistons followed their 38-point third quarter with a 14-point fourth in which they shot 27 percent and made as many turnovers (five) as baskets.

Charlotte took a one-point lead after Drummond’s tying possession when Walker split a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left. It went to two down after Blake Griffin – back strong after a one-game rest at Philadelphia with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists – missed a pair of free throws 10 seconds later and Jeremy Lamb split a pair with 20 seconds to go. The Hornets then opened the door by fouling Langston Galloway 35 feet from the basket with 15 seconds left.

That set up a bizarre finish begun when Lamb hit a tough, contested long 2-point shot from the wing with 0.3 left. The Pistons double teamed Walker, whose pass from the paint forced Lamb, his feet set at the 3-point arc, to lunge forward and then get his shot off with Johnson in his air space. As Lamb gathered to shoot, Malik Monk and one other Hornets player ran onto the court from their bench at the opposite end.

The officials huddled and called a technical foul on the Hornets but allowed the basket to stand. Galloway’s free throw made it a one-point game, but without a timeout the Pistons were forced to inbound the ball from 94 feet away on the baseline and Griffin’s baseball pass was intercepted, running out the clock.

“Six minutes we were (ahead) 101-91 and I don’t know if it was our offense going bad or their defense becoming better,” Jose Calderon said. “We struggled to score. We’ve got to find easier shots. At the same time, we didn’t make those shots we were making a little bit before. Those last six minutes, we maybe didn’t execute the right way.”

The Pistons still have five tough games ahead of them before the schedule lightens, starting with hosting Boston and Milwaukee in the next two games.

“It’s the NBA. You’re going to go through droughts,” Casey said. “This is a tough. Tonight is a very tough one. A very winnable game. A team we’re going to be fighting and scratching with all year. We have an excellent group of guys in that locker room. I didn’t see any hanging heads, pointing fingers. We’re all in it. We all understand there’s going to be tough times. But I think we’re very resilient. I was proud of the way we fought back tonight.”

Casey expects Reggie Bullock back Saturday and his 3-point threat might have loosened Charlotte’s grip on Griffin in the final six minutes, when it ganged up on him and nobody could make the Hornets pay from the perimeter. That will be another step toward getting the corner turned. They came close to getting it done Wednesday. That they didn’t will sting at least until they get back on the floor Saturday.