Warriors win the battle of 2 fatigued teams as Pistons lose 5th straight

Boban Marjanovic scored 10 points off the bench in his return to the rotation but the Pistons ran out of gas in the last five minutes of their loss to Golden State.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – When the Pistons lose the way they’ve lost the last four games – all of them coming down to the final minute, none by more than five points, including Friday’s 102-98 loss to the defending champion Warriors – Stan Van Gundy always stews over the decisions that turn out wrong.

His and his team’s decisions, mostly, because those are the ones he can control. But, every now and then, the ones made by the guys in stripes, too.

The box score from the latest gut-wrenching loss shows Golden State with 15 blocked shots – six for Draymond Green, five for Kevin Durant. Fans look at that and sing the praises of Green and Durant. Van Gundy looks at it and wonders why the message didn’t sink in a little earlier.

“You get five or six blocked, that’s just great defense,” he said. “You get 16 blocked against Milwaukee (on Nov. 15), 15 blocks, that’s bad decision making. We’ve just got to make better decisions. They’re blocking threes – guys flying at you – you’ve got to be able to shot fake. Go to the basket, help’s coming, you’ve got to be able to find people. We’ve got to do a better job of making those plays.”

Four of the blocked shots came on Pistons 3-point attempts. To not see a single blocked three in a game would be typical. Four in one game, by the same team? Yikes.

The biggest one appeared to be the clincher – until an unlikely sequence of events in the final minute gave the Pistons a shot at forcing overtime or winning with a 3-pointer – when Durant blocked an Anthony Tolliver triple with 1:31 to play and turned it into a dunk at the other end. A make and the Pistons are down two; instead, they trailed by seven.

“One thing Coach did was he prepared us to have the mentality to drive and kick and we just didn’t do it consistently tonight,” Avery Bradley said. “It’s just unfortunate because we were prepared. We knew they were going to have guys in the paint and they were going to attack us on the defensive end. It was our job to make plays for one another and we did it at times, but we didn’t do it enough.”

Another play that involved Durant and Tolliver proved pivotal and that’s where a referee’s decision rankled Van Gundy. The Pistons were down by two points with six minutes to play and rallying – on a 5-0 run after a Langston Galloway triple and a Boban Marjanovic post score – when Durant badly missed a 3-point shot. But Durant fell to the floor after the shot and it was ruled Tolliver didn’t give him room to land – replays showed the ends of their shoes made contact – resulting in a three-shot foul.

“Because it was Kevin Durant who went down,” Van Gundy said. “And they said it was definitely a foul. I don’t agree, having looked at it. But it’s Kevin Durant.”

“I’m not trying to get fined,” Andre Drummond said when asked his perspective on the call. “So I can’t answer that.”

The Pistons lost to Philadelphia by five, San Antonio by three and Milwaukee by four and had chances to win each game. The Golden State game was their fifth in eight days and only their third home game in the last 12. Only one of those 12 games – a home date with Phoenix – came against a team that won’t in all likelihood be in the playoffs. Did the schedule catch up to the Pistons?

“I wouldn’t say that,” Bradley said. “I believe in not making any excuses. We still had a chance tonight. We made some mistakes that I feel like are mistakes you can control and that’s always unfortunate. But we’re right there. We just have to stay positive and use days like tomorrow to get better.”

Bradley’s triple with 22 seconds left – after his two free throws and a Drummond backcourt steal – allowed the Pistons to cut an eight-point deficit with 46 seconds left and a seven-point gap with 36 seconds to play to two. Tolliver fouled Shaun Livingston with 20 seconds to play and his two missed free throws suddenly put the Pistons in position to tie or win with a 3-pointer.

Reggie Jackson drove the left side of the lane with about 10 seconds to play and attempted a twisting layup in heavy traffic that didn’t draw iron.

“He drove it hard and a lot of people came to the ball,” Van Gundy said. “We had two guys open (on the) weak side. That’s what I saw. But it’s a lot easier to sit and watch it on tape and see it than it is when you’re the guy driving the ball to the basket.”

It was another decision in another narrow loss that will gnaw at Van Gundy and his players as they endure the most challenging stretch of schedule they’ll face all season.

“He did what he does best,” Drummond said. “He attacked the basket and the ball didn’t go in. Simple as that.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 91-81 loss to the Boston Celtics at Little Caesars Arena

1-SPUTTERING OFFENSE – It was almost the craziest comeback you’ve ever seen. But it was anything but pretty. The Pistons won at Boston 13 days ago with a sublime offensive effort, racking up 118 points against the NBA’s No. 1 defense. This time around was the opposite of sublime. They got to halftime down only seven points despite getting a combined two baskets from Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris. It went from bad to worse in a hurry after that. The Pistons didn’t score for more than five minutes to start the third quarter, covering nine possessions, and Boston used a 10-0 run to take a 17-point lead. They did an abrupt U-turn after Harris finally cracked the ice, scoring 22 points in the last seven minutes of the third quarter and cutting an 18-point deficit to 10 before Terry Rozier’s bomb at the buzzer put Boston up 14 headed to the fourth. A 12-0 run sparked by two Harris triples that started with the Pistons down 16 pulled them within four with 4:19 to go and Harris had another three that would’ve pulled them within a point rim out. That was as close as they got. The Pistons, who’ve lost six in a row in the teeth of a brutal stretch of schedule, shot 33 percent. Reggie Jackson scored two points on free throws but missed all nine of his shots. The Pistons got off to a good start on offense, scoring 10 points before the nine-minute mark of the first quarter, then scuffled badly for the rest of the half. The Celtics went on a 22-7 run and had 29 points with more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter before also running aground. Harris finished with 19 points.

2-DRUMMOND COOLED OFF – Andre Drummond has been dominant against the Celtics for the entirety of Stan Van Gundy’s run in Detroit. But the Celtics made a lineup switch since their meeting 13 days ago in Boston, putting ex-Pistons center Aron Baynes into the lineup and bumping Al Horford to power forward to give Boston more size and a much better physical matchup for Drummond. Drummond, who had 26 points and 22 rebounds in the first meeting, was scoreless with four rebounds at halftime and finished with six points and 15 rebounds, scoring his only basket on a tip-in with three minutes to play. He averaged 21.3 points and 17.8 rebounds in four games vs. the Celtics last season, 16.8 and 13.0 two seasons ago and 22.3 and 16.7 in Van Gundy’s first year as Pistons coach. Baynes played him to a standoff with six points and 13 rebounds. Horford, matched with Tobias Harris instead of Drummond, got the Celtics off to a good start offensively, hitting 4 of 4 shots – mostly by taking Harris into the post and using his size edge to shoot over him – for eight points in nine first-quarter minutes before briefly exiting and visiting the locker room for what appeared a lower-body injury. Horford hit a big late three and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.

3-RARE ROOKIE – If the Pistons had beaten the long odds to win the lottery last June – they had seven chances in 1,000 to get the No. 1 pick – Stan Van Gundy let the cat out of the bag who they would have taken: Jayson Tatum. Teammates with Luke Kennard at Duke, Tatum instead was taken No. 3 by Boston. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said he would have taken Tatum with the No. 1 pick – which the Celtics had before trading it to Philadelphia so the 76ers could draft Markelle Fultz. Tatum, meanwhile, is starting for the team with the East’s best record and is third on the team in scoring at 14.3 a game while shooting 52 percent from the 3-point arc. It’s that last bit that, Van Gundy says, no one saw coming. “Anybody who says they’re not surprised by the 3-point shooting based on what he did in college is lying. If there’s somebody who said, ‘Oh, I knew he’d knock down 50 percent of his threes even though he made 32 percent of them from the college line,’ they’re lining. But everything else was there.” Van Gundy said, “I thought he was the best prospect in the draft.” Tatum finished with 11 points, hitting 3 of 5 triples, and his three ball with just under two minutes left to give Boston an eight-point lead stalled the Pistons comeback.

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