A Bitter Loss
3-point shooting, late Lakers run undo Pistons in 2nd straight home defeat
Sooner or later, somebody in the morass that is the Eastern Conference outside of Indiana and Miami is going to get hot and string wins together. It could’ve been the Pistons. They might now be on a four-game winning streak. But Friday’s loss to the Lakers was dishearteningly akin to Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls, and instead of soaring into December with the wind at their backs, the Pistons were left to look inward and ask tough questions of themselves after Friday’s 106-102 loss to the Lakers.
Just as the Bulls won at The Palace without Derrick Rose, the Lakers won without Kobe Bryant. Just as Chicago used a 21-0 fourth-quarter run to pull away from the Pistons, the Lakers used a 12-0 fourth-quarter run to wipe out an eight-point deficit with five minutes to play.
And the loss had too much else in common with other season-long storylines – vulnerability to 3-point shooting, free-throw woes and stretches of stagnant offense – that have saddled the Pistons with a 6-10 record, not at all what they expected over the first 20 percent of the season.
“You have an eight-point lead with three, four, five minutes to go, you’ve got to be able to hold that,” said Brandon Jennings, who finished with 19 points and nine assists but missed the first two of three free throws when he was fouled with 16.7 seconds left and the Pistons trailing by three. “Once a team gets rolling and gets momentum, it’s tough, especially for a team like the Lakers, who travel with fans everywhere. Once they start scoring, the momentum changes.”
"We just got to figure out how to close games; it was a tough loss."
- Andre Drummond on the game
Full game quotes
Time and again, what tipped momentum to the Lakers when it had swayed to the Pistons was 3-point shooting. If the Pistons thought they were hot when the Lakers beat them by 15 at the Staples Center earlier this month, they hadn’t seen anything. That night, the Lakers hit 10 of 25 from the 3-point line; this time, they hit 14 of 31. Wesley Johnson hit 6 of 7 and scored 27; Shawne Williams came off the bench to hit 6 of 11 for 20 points. The Lakers outscored the Pistons by a whopping 42-3 from the 3-point line, virtually negating the dominance of the Pistons in the paint, where they scored 48 points in the first half alone and finished with 76.
The Pistons have been consistently hurt at the arc all season, entering the game 23rd in opponent 3-point percentage at .377. The Pistons were 1 of 8 from the 3-point line, solidifying their hold on 30th in league rankings.
“We live by putting the ball inside. That’s how we play,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Obviously, at some pint we’ve got to make shots. The way they play, they have four, five shooters around. They live on the outside, we live on the inside. At some point, we will make those shots.”
The frustration of the Pistons was visible as, time and again, the ball would find an open Lakers 3-point shooter. The Pistons had a chance to put the game away early in the fourth quarter, but committed turnovers on their first two possessions and then missed two shots on their third when they were ahead by 10. The Lakers promptly got a triple from Williams. When three straight Jennings drives yielded layups that restored Detroit’s lead to eight points at the five-minute mark, Jordan Farmar launched another Lakers comeback with a triple.
“We’ve got to figure out our defensive schemes,” Jennings said. “One time we’re coming down, we’re switching, then the next we’re not. Guys are just confused down the stretch.”
“It’s the NBA, man. Everybody makes shots,” Andre Drummond said. “Everybody’s capable of doing anything. That’s what we get paid to do. It’s tough watching people make shots like that, but on any given night anybody can do that.”
Cheeks laid responsibility for all the open 3-point shots on the Pistons’ inability to stop dribble penetration.
“I didn’t think it was any type of (system) breakdown,” he said. “They stayed in the game by (the) three and got back in the game by (the) three. They spread the floor, they beat us off the dribble and they kick it to a shooter. That’s how they got back in the game and then we stopped scoring.”
After the last of Jennings’ layups at 4:59, the Pistons didn’t make another basket, going 0 for 7. Josh Smith missed two shots, Stuckey missed three and Jennings missed a pair, including a meaningless heave at the buzzer with the Pistons trailing by four.
The missed free throws at the end by Jennings typified their night. Last in the league in foul shooting, the Pistons were just 13 of 25, shooting 52 percent from the line on a night their opponent shot 45 percent from the 3-point line.
“The Chicago game was totally disappointing,” Jennings said. “We just got blown out in the second half. We had no energy, nothing. Then we come here tonight against the Lakers and lose a close one. I kind of put that on myself for missing those two free throws down the stretch. That’s something I love for. I’m a guy that’s been known to knock ’em down. To see two of ’em rattle in and out, that hurts.”
There was a lot of hurt in a locker room that knows it let two gaping opportunities for win get away, turning the momentum the expected to carry into December on its head.