‘We can’t dig ourselves a hole like that’ – Pistons come up a 3 short of 27-point comeback at Denver
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
DENVER – The game ended as it began – with Blake Griffin missing a shot. Wedged in between was a whole lot of crazy.
It would have gotten even crazier if Griffin’s 3-pointer at the buzzer had forced overtime, a game that would have taken its place with another Pistons-Nuggets matchup in the Mile High City in NBA lore – the 186-184 triple overtime Pistons win in December 1983, the highest-scoring game in league history.
The Pistons looked determined to make it the lowest-scoring game in league history this time around. Griffin missed two point-blank layups on the game’s first possession and that established an unsettling tone for a first quarter in which the Pistons scored all of nine points, making 4 of 29 shots and missing all eight of their 3-pointers.
“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean in the first half,” Ish Smith said.
They trailed by 27 at halftime, by 19 after three quarters and still by 14 with six minutes to go. As bad as the Pistons were offensively in the first half, they were that good defensively in the second – or, if you choose, Denver mimicked the Pistons’ first-half offense in the second, shooting 26 percent with 10 turnovers in scoring 29 points.
And there the Pistons were, trailing by three after two Denver free throws with nine seconds left, with a chance to tie. Griffin got a shot the Pistons will take in that situation every time, a clean corner 3-point shot.
“Both men jumped at me and we got a great look at the end of game, down three,” said Wayne Ellington, whose triple with 1:03 to play pulled the Pistons within two. “We can’t complain about that.”
It clanged off the rim, bounced high in the air and fell away, allowing Denver to escape with a win that pulls the Nuggets even with Golden State atop the Western Conference standings.
“Felt awful. Felt like we got a good look and let us down to take it to overtime,” Griffin said. “Not happy with the outcome. Obviously, not happy with how we played the first quarter. But I liked our fight and if we play like that the rest of the season, we’ll be all right.”
Casey wasn’t quite as ready to let the loss go and laud the fight the Pistons exhibited against long odds – the quality of the opponent, the last game of a tough road trip, the third game in four nights in Denver’s thin air.
“You can’t be happy about that,” he said after the 95-92 loss that – coupled with Orlando and Charlotte wins – puts a Pistons playoff berth that seemed ordained two weeks ago in great peril. “It makes me even more mad and upset that we played the way should have played in the second half.”
Griffin finished with big numbers: 29 points and 15 rebounds. But he shot 12 of 32 and 2 of 10 from the 3-point arc. He was 1 of 11 in the first quarter, when he missed shot after shot at the rim, which at least padded his rebounding stats – six on the offensive end in the first seven minutes.
“Everybody did their part (in the comeback), but we can’t start the game – I can’t start the game – like I did,” he said. “Missing eight right at the rim, tip-in after tip-in. We’ve got to come out with a little more fire, especially on the road playing a team like this.”
Griffin triggered the comeback, scoring 16 points in the third quarter, 14 in a row. Until Reggie Jackson’s triple with 6:12 left that cut Denver’s lead to 12, Griffin was the only Pistons player in double figures. Jackson finished with 17, 12 in the fourth quarter. Andre Drummond fouled out with nine seconds left with 13 points and 18 rebounds and Ellington scored 12 points, hitting 4 of 8 from the 3-point arc on a night the Pistons were 11 of 42.
“We can’t dig ourselves a hole like that,” Ellington said. “We showed what we’re made of in the second half, but that’s how we’ve got to start the game. We can’t come out lackadaisical, relaxing against a very good team like them. This time of year we’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency and we know that. We’ve got to get back home and take care of business now. We didn’t have the road trip we wanted, so we’re looking ahead. We’ve got to go ahead and get the next one.”