Nightmarish first half digs deep hole as Pistons get buzzed by Charlotte

Blake Griffin scored 20 points and hit 10 of 18 shots as the Pistons fell at Charlottte
Kent Smith (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHARLOTTE – Stan Van Gundy didn’t intend to have both Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin off the court at the same time for anything approaching an extended period. And, in fact, he didn’t.

It was barely three minutes of the second quarter – long enough for the game to slip away, as it turned out.

The memory of Friday night and Boston’s 65-21 bench domination fresh, perhaps Van Gundy passed on earlier chances to take Griffin out of the game. It’s usually well before 10 minutes have lapsed, which is when he summoned Anthony Tolliver to get Griffin in Sunday’s 114-98 loss to Charlotte.

“We’re just having so much trouble when we go to the bench,” Van Gundy said. “And we were playing decent there for a while, so we tried to run it out. And then we ended up with all five bench guys in there and it collapsed and then we couldn’t get it back.”

That’s it, in a nutshell. The Pistons trailed by four with three minutes left in the first quarter, by eight when Griffin sat and by 13 two minutes later at the first-quarter buzzer. Drummond joined him on the bench to start the second quarter. When Van Gundy rushed Griffin back into the game at the 8:44 mark of the second quarter, the deficit had swelled to 21.

The three minutes Van Gundy went without one of his two star big men on the court saw the Pistons’ chances for getting a much-needed road win – they’ve won once on the road since Reggie Jackson went down on Dec. 26 – greatly diminished. For the second straight game, the Pistons gave up 38 points in the second quarter and went to halftime in a big hole.

“Second quarter again decided the game,” Drummond said. “Honestly, this needs to stop. Can’t keep going in games where we’re down 15, 20 points before halftime. Try to make a fight and come back, but it’s the NBA. Teams are going to keep going. They’re going to stay hot and get themselves going. The sooner we figure that out, the better for us. We still have a chance to make some noise.”

It wasn’t all about Van Gundy’s bench, though. Charlotte dissected the Pistons in a first half in which it scored 36 of its 70 points in the paint while also knocking down 8 of 17 from the 3-point arc. Between lob dunks over the defense to Dwight Howard and back-door cuts for layups, the Hornets had the Pistons guessing and groping.

“We did a really poor job on their pick and rolls,” Van Gundy said. “Really, really poor.”

There were plenty of execution breakdowns, evident by Van Gundy burning three timeouts in a span of less than five minutes of the second quarter.

“I talked to Blake earlier. I made a couple of mistakes by not being the low man,” Ish Smith admitted. “With bumping Dwight, he got a couple of easy little lobs. Once we kept that under control, then they started spreading out for threes. They played well tonight and they played with a lot of energy, with a lot of freedom and came at us. We weathered the storm a little in the third and closed it out well in the fourth, but the second quarter was the biggest deal. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

“Guys weren’t pulling in. Made my job really tough,” Drummond said. “I had to gauge how hard I had to be up on the pick and roll and how quickly I needed to retreat to get back to Dwight because he rolls really quick. Just tough matchups for everybody to handle. They were hitting on all cylinders, so it was a tough night overall for us.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 123-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre

1-A FEW BAD MINUTES – It wasn’t Stan Van Gundy’s bench that undermined the Pistons this time around, at least not to the degree it had in the first two games – losses to Boston and Charlotte – coming out of the All-Star break. The Pistons were within six points early in the third quarter when Toronto went on a 14-0 run as the Pistons went seven straight possessions without a point. It took just 2:40 of playing time and the game was essentially over as the Pistons lost their third straight and their sixth in the last seven and this time the run came with all five starters on the floor. While Toronto shot 52.5 percent, the Pistons spent most of the game shooting under 40 percent and finished at 38.3 percent. Toronto, now 25-5 at home and the top team in the Eastern Conference, comes to Little Caesars Arena next week. Andre Drummond finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds for the Pistons.

2-DANGER ZONE – The 3-point line, after benefitting the Pistons most of the season, has suddenly become an adversary. Though the Pistons came into the game ranked seventh in 3-point percentage at 37.2 per game, they’ve seen a decline since the trade for Blake Griffin cost them two of their best 3-point threats in Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. On the other end, though, opponents have been shooting an alarming number of triples. Over the 10 games coming into Monday night, teams were averaging 35.1 triples a game against the Pistons, which ranked them 29th in the league. Toronto attempted 37 to continue the trend. The Raptors rank No. 5 in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game at 32.4 but they launched 20 in the first half alone, when they made nine. Kyle Lowry hit 6 of 8 from the arc for 18 of his 20 points to lead Toronto’s 3-point offense. The Pistons give up 11.1 made 3-pointers a game for the season, but in their past 10 games the number jumped to 12.2 and this was the fourth time in the past eight games that they’d given up 16 or more. Of the six times the Pistons have given up 17 triples in a game this season – the high for their opponents – three of them have come in the past eight games.

3-MORE JUGGLING – Stan Van Gundy isn’t standing pat while his bench struggles. After a six-minute stint with backup guards Jameer Nelson and Langston Galloway saw the Pistons lose 17 points to Charlotte on Sunday, he went with Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks as the backups at Toronto. In talking about Kennard and Galloway before the game, Van Gundy indicated that he likely needed to pick one or the other and let it play out for a while. “I think a good part of this is one me. I think that they both have the feeling that they’ve got to make shots to stay on the floor and it’s hard to play that way. I think I’ve got to find one of them and go with them on a consistent basis. I think I’ve exacerbated their struggles a little bit.” Kennard didn’t have any luck breaking out of it, finishing scoreless on 0 of 4 shooting in 16 minutes. Buycks almost surely earned another crack at backing up Smith by finishgin with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes, though he hit just 3 of 11 shots. Galloway played mop-up minutes at point guard but didn’t attempt a shot in four minutes.

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