‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda’ – A slow start, poor shooting doom Pistons in loss to Jazz

Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant had another big game, scoring 28 points, but a slow start and cold shooting were too much for the Pistons to overcome in Sunday’s loss to Utah
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

When you hold the other guys to 96 points and limit your turnovers to single digits, the table is set for an NBA win. But when you play without your top two point guards and make a third of your shots, that table gets knocked off its legs.

So how, exactly, do you assess Sunday afternoon’s 96-86 loss to Utah, a game that featured all kinds of statistical anomalies including how the Pistons managed to get off more shot attempts (87-83) and nearly as many free throws (22-21) despite getting outrebounded 63-39?

The Pistons could curse themselves for another slow start – they overcame a 23-point deficit to beat Phoenix on Friday, then spotted Utah a 20-point lead in the first 10 minutes Sunday – while feeling good about coming back to pull within five with two minutes left and holding the Jazz to 43 percent shooting with 16 turnovers.

“We could do better at everything,” rookie Saddiq Bey said after another encouraging outing, finishing with 12 points and three rebounds in 27 minutes. “Control what we can control. Sometimes shots are not going to fall. It happens. We’ve got to continue to bring the pressure on defense and play together and grind it out. I think we’ve got to get better at everything.”

As it was in Friday’s loss to Phoenix, the zone defense Casey employed was instrumental in Sunday’s comeback. Utah was held to 62 points over the final three quarters, but the 34 the Jazz scored in the first quarter count, too.

“It’s concerning,” Casey said of the sluggish starts. “You spot ’em 9-0 and we lose a 10-point game. We have to really evaluate our starts, our starting lineup, whatever it is just to give us some juice. You can’t spot any team in this league nine or 10 points and expect to win. You use so much energy coming back.”

The start might not have been any more insurmountable than Phoenix’s big lead, however, if just a few of all those errant missed 3-pointers had fallen. The Pistons wound up shooting 33 percent overall but just 24 percent from the 3-point arc. Take away Jerami Grant’s 3 of 6 – and Grant continues to outperform any reasonable expectation, finishing with 28 points on 9 of 19 shooting – and the Pistons hit just 7 of 36 triples.

And that includes the two Wayne Ellington made in the last six minutes. Until his first triple pulled the Pistons within five with 9:31 left, the three shooting guards Casey employed – starter Josh Jackson and backup Svi Mykhailiuk in addition to Ellington – were a collective 1 of 17 overall and 1 of 15 from the arc.

“We had a lot of great looks,” Casey said. “I want our guys to continue to take those looks. Svi had some great looks. Wayne had great looks. Blake (Griffin, who was 1 of 7 from the arc) had great looks. Any of those goes in, it would have been a one-possession game. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

The Pistons don’t have much margin for error on offense playing without their top two point guards as they did on Sunday. Derrick Rose sat out with left knee soreness, his absence atop the long-term sidelining of rookie Killian Hayes following last week’s hip injury suffered at Milwaukee. Frank Jackson, who made his Pistons debut on Friday and is on a two-way contract, had a nice first-half stint but missed shots on successive possessions in the fourth quarter after Ellington’s first triple.

“Frank gave us a spark, but he’s new to the team,” Casey said of the compounding familiarity issues when another new point guard joins a team with 11 other newcomers in the mix. “You add another new face, but a talented young man. Tonight’s not on him. We missed Derrick and hopefully he’s not out that long.”

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