Pistons rally late from 13 down, but can’t overcome Portland’s hot shooting
PORTLAND – If Portland was the frying pan, Golden State might be the fire.
The Pistons expected their defense to carry them while they figured out how best to use their jumbo frontcourt and how their new backcourt pieces would fit together offensively. For all the hand-wringing about their lack of perimeter shooting, offense simply hasn’t been the issue so far.
The Pistons started their four-game Western Conference road trip hovering in or very near the top 10 in offensive efficiency (eighth) and scoring (12th), but in or near the bottom third in points allowed (22nd) and defensive efficiency (19th).
Alas, those defensive numbers took a hit Monday at Portland, where the Blazers scored 107 points in the game’s first 44 minutes before the Pistons – maybe – figured ’em out. Portland was up 13 at that point. The Pistons rallied to pull within four and had two chances to get closer, but wound up losing 109-103.
And now it’s on to Golden State, where … well, let Brandon Jennings tell you.
“We’ve got a tough one tomorrow,” he said after scoring 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, in fact scoring Detroit’s final 13 points to lead the charge. “Another team that likes to shoot a lot of threes. It’s going to be even tougher. If we thought this team shot a lot of threes, wait until tomorrow.”
The Pistons again didn’t do much damage from the 3-point line again at Portland, making 3 of 14. Yet their offense hummed along just fine, scoring 25 or more in three quarters and 23 in the third.
" I am not satisfied with how we are playing defensively now and we need to get better."
- Maurice Cheeks on team defense
Full game quotes
It’s the 3-point line on the defensive end that has become the more pressing issue. The Trail Blazers hit 6 of 10 in the first quarter and 11 of 23 for the game, and opened up way too many cracks in the interior of the Pistons’ defense, too, with the offensively limited Robin Lopez exploiting them to score 17 points on 7 of 10 accuracy, mostly uncontested shots at the rim.
“We’ve got to try to get better (defensively),” Maurice Cheeks said. “But that’s what they do. They shoot threes. We tried to defend the threes, they run pick and roll because they spread the floor and when they do that, you’re going to take your chances. We had a chance – Brandon gets a layup there, ball comes out, it’s a two-point game right there. They shot the ball well and that’s the name of their game.”
Five different Blazers made triples, led by Damian Lillard’s five (in eight tries) and Dorrell Wright’s three (in five). Lillard scored 25 to lead six Blazers in double figures, including two – Wright (11) and Mo Williams (17), who hit 7 of 7 in the first half – off the bench.
“We gave up 100-something points,” Greg Monroe said. “That’s not acceptable. We definitely have to clean some stuff up.”
Monroe had 19 points and eight rebounds in essentially battling longtime Pistons nemesis LaMarcus Aldridge to a standoff. He and Jennings weren’t the only Pistons with impressive numbers. Andre Drummond had an emphatic double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Rodney Stuckey came off the bench to score 13 points and Josh Smith scored an efficient 11.
They shot 46 percent and scored a whopping 60 points in the paint, solidifying their standing as No. 1 in the league in that category. They cut their turnovers, an early-season bugaboo, to nine and outscored the Blazers 21-9 in points off turnovers.
But add it all up and it still wasn’t enough to atone for a defense that was exploited on both sides of the 3-point line.
“We have to start finding ways within the game, in earlier spots, to kind of take control,” Monroe said. “We have to find a way to make runs. We have to force runs. We have to come down and be that team that gets five stops in a row to give us a little energy. Offensively, I think we’re fine – we’re not perfect, but I think we’re fine. We have to clean up some things defensively and have to start putting the emphasis on getting multiple stops in a row.”
Cheeks essentially cut his rotation to eight players, bypassing a backup power forward except for a five-minute appearance from Charlie Villanueva late in the third and early in the fourth quarters. Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome had previously gotten shots there, but Cheeks rode Drummond, Monroe, Smith and Kyle Singler for all of the frontcourt minutes save for Villanueva’s cameo.
In the backcourt, Chauncey Billups continued to start but played only the first seven minutes of each half, Stuckey going the distance each time as his backup. Jennings played 32 minutes and added five assists and three steals with just two turnovers as he appears to be settling in after missing nearly a month with a preseason injury.
“It’s coming along,” he said. “I try not to do too much. I had a conversation with Joe (Dumars). He told me just to play basketball. My first couple of games were very intense, but if I see we’re struggling I’m going to try to do the best I can.”
An offense that seems to be finding its way despite little help from the 3-point line is now in his hands. It’s their defense that has the Pistons a little perplexed six games into the season.