‘We’ve got to figure something out’ – Pistons lose another squeaker to Hornets

DETROIT – There’s a fine line between winning and losing in a league where the draft rewards the weakest and a salary cap tamps down the ability of the strongest to stay that way. But the Pistons keep winding up on the wrong side of that line as the 2019-20 season nears the quarter pole and it’s vexing them to figure out why.

For the second time in 24 hours and the third time in two weeks the Pistons lost a game to Charlotte, a team widely projected to be in the lottery, that came down to a final possession.

The Pistons are 0-for-3 in those final possessions. When Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway missed 3-pointers – Galloway’s a half-court heave at the buzzer – in the final nine seconds to force overtime, losing 110-107, it capped a loss that saw the Pistons outscored 15-4 in the final five minutes after taking their largest lead, 103-95, on Kennard’s basket with 5:25 to go.

“I just hope we realize that the difference between winning and losing is very marginal,” Blake Griffin said as the Pistons slipped to 6-13. “It can be a play here, a play there, communication here. Right now we haven’t shown that we’re willing to do the things to win. It’s real light in here after a win, so to me it seems like we love the victory but we don’t like the fight. And you’re not going to win games like that.”

Dwane Casey’s perspective was a little different. He liked the fight he witnessed but grew queasy at the mental errors during those fateful final five minutes.

“Our guys are competing at a high level, but now we’ve got to put thought into it,” he said. “A lot of execution issues on both ends (in the final five minutes). We were supposed to have been blitzing (on pick and rolls); for whatever reason, we weren’t getting into our blitzes. Our defensive breakdowns were just as egregious as our offensive breakdowns.”

The Pistons had 10 possessions after Kennard’s basket put them ahead by eight points. They scored on a Derrick Rose 3-pointer – he led them with 23 points in 22 minutes – and a Griffin free throw when he split a pair.

Kennard missed four shots, including a transition layup when it appeared as if he expected a foul call; Andre Drummond committed two turnovers and Griffin one; and Griffin missed a 3-pointer.

Charlotte scored on six of its 10 possessions, including three 3-pointers – two from rookie P.J. Washington, who scored 11 of his 26 in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a good player,” Casey said of the Kentucky lottery pick. “He made some tough shots. They shot 50 percent from three – that’s the ballgame – and we missed 10 free throws (in 20 tries). Their 3-point shooting was what kicked us in the behind.”

The Hornets hit 19 of 38, the Pistons 15 of 35. The teams combined to make 15 3-pointers in a wild first quarter that ended with Charlotte ahead 38-37.

The Pistons were pretty good defensively for the next 31 minutes, then sprung leaks in the final five.

“Losing obviously isn’t any fun,” Kennard said. “You can just tell by the atmosphere in the locker room. We had to lose. But we’ve got to figure something out. I thought we started off bad defensively. We had 37 points in the first quarter and we were still losing. We’ve got to start working harder, communicating better on defense. Just everybody – we’ve got to be more connected.”

Griffin is the emotional bellwether of the locker room, offering a pat on the back or a kick in the pants as the situation requires. After Wednesday’s one-point loss at Charlotte, when they failed to get a shot off on a final possession as Rose passed to Kennard too late, it was Griffin standing up for Rose and projecting optimism. After Friday’s clunker, he was more at the other end of the spectrum.

“You’ve just got to give yourself up,” he said of the way the Pistons pull themselves out of the early-season tailspin. “Whatever the team needs, that’s what we’ve got to do. Sometimes it’s not your night shooting, sometimes it’s not your night passing the ball. You’re not getting the assist – maybe you’re getting the hockey assist – but you’ve still got to contribute and do those little things. Can’t let anything stop you from contributing to a team win.”