Too Many Turnovers
Late unforced errors doom Pistons, who put up a good fight at Miami
MIAMI – The Miami Heat have won two straight NBA titles and have taken everybody’s best shot since the moment LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed off on their corporate merger nearly four years ago.
So it’s not as if the Heat would fear or dread a playoff matchup with the Pistons. No one is suggesting otherwise. But it’s probably fair to guess the Heat would prefer a different first-round opponent, if it comes to that.
The Pistons beat Miami here in December and did it pretty convincingly, winning by 10 points. Dwyane Wade didn’t play that night, OK, but he misses his share of games and the Heat have managed to do quite nicely without him.
A lot went wrong for the Pistons in Monday’s rematch. Andre Drummond played four first-half minutes due to foul trouble. They missed a lot of point-blank shots. They committed too many unforced turnovers against a team that expertly forces more than its share of miscues.
And yet the Pistons managed to score 57 first-half points despite shooting 37 percent and had 80 after three quarters despite 14 turnovers at that point.
They were within a point of the Heat, 81-80, and had the ball with a chance to take the lead on the last possession of the third quarter. But Rodney Stuckey got called for an offensive foul and Ray Allen hit a buzzer beater triple.
"We had opportunities to win the basketball game. Against a great team like this and on the road you got to be a little bit more conscious of the turnovers."
- Josh Smith on the game
Full game quotes
That was a bit of ominous foreshadowing. Allen hit another triple to open the fourth, but it was less about the triples than the turnovers. The Pistons committed eight of them in an eight-minute span that began with Stuckey’s offensive foul. And that’s how 81-80 became 100-85. The Pistons had more turnovers (seven) that shot attempts (five) in the fourth quarter at the time their lead hit double digits, undermining a great shot to sweep the champions for the season in their building.
“We ended up with 21 turnovers and against them, I don’t think you can have turnovers like that,” Cheeks said. “We had a lot of unforced turnovers that allowed them to get in the open court and get easy baskets. I thought our defense was good for the most part, but you turn it over like we turned it over, I don’t think you can overcome some of those.”
“We had an opportunity to win the basketball game,” Josh Smith said after the 102-96 loss. “But against a great team like this and being on the road, you’ve got to be a little bit more conscious of the turnovers, especially myself.”
Smith wound up with six of the 21 Pistons turnovers that Miami converted into 28 points and Stuckey had four. It was the eyesore on a box score that otherwise carried good news for the Pistons, who outrebounded Miami 51-44 and shot more free throws, 29-21.
Greg Monroe had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Drummond 12 points and 12 boards in short minutes. Brandon Jennings was a handful for Miami’s backcourt, scoring 26 points on just 15 shots while tacking on seven assists. Miami presents matchup problems by the gross, but the Pistons throw some right back at the Heat with their size and strength.
“I just think if we attack the paint, we have a lot of bigger guys from our threes on down,” Drummond said. “It helped us out later in the game with attacking the paint and making it tough for them.”
“Most definitely,” Smith said of the quandary the Pistons pose for Miami despite their three Olympians, who combined for 71 points and 25 rebounds with James coming up two rebounds shy of a triple-double and Wade finishing with 30 points and 10 boards. The Heat opened the game with James guarding Monroe, a switch from the first two games when Shane Battier guarded him. Battier guarded Smith to start each half this time.
“I could be used as a decoy, especially with Shane Battier guarding me,” Smith continued. “I know they’re going to load up and double team, so I’ve just got to be patient and make the right plays.”
Not enough right plays killed the Pistons, and no better example of their inexperience relative to Miami’s came via the fouls Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope committed against wily veterans Bosh and Wade in the opening minutes. Both were seated next to Cheeks two minutes into the game.
“KCP, his first time guarding Wade – Wade’s been around a while and understands certain things when a younger guy is guarding him. Andre picked up three early fouls that didn’t allow him to stay in the game. I thought he learned in the second half how to play and not to pick up those fouls, but those are growing pains that guys have to figure out how to do.”
“Walk to the bench and I had to clear my head and get ready for the next half,” Drummond said of the thoughts running through his head when Bosh got him off his feet for a quick foul and baited him into reaching to foul him on a jump shot. “I picked up two tough fouls, so I had to shake it off and keep moving. I can’t take the fouls back.”
The Pistons came back from a 16-3 Miami run late in the first half and played through three technical fouls – to Cheeks, Smith and Monroe – in a dizzying span of the second quarter, Smith and Monroe basically for shrugging and holding their palms up after no-calls when they believed they were fouled. They held Miami to 39 second-half points and to 46 percent shooting for the game, not a remarkable number but remarkable enough given the easy baskets Miami amassed off of turnovers.
“Most things we do is a learning experience,” Cheeks said of the night, and specifically of dealing with the frustration that resulted in the technicals. “That was another experience of trying to learn, fighting our way through getting technical fouls. You’ve got to find a way to get over it. We have to learn how to deal with it.”
They took a step in that direction under the glare of the defending champions’ bright lights Monday night. They wouldn’t mind a chance to take a few more if the playoffs pair these two franchises a few months down the road.