‘We kept fighting’ – Pistons refuse abundant excuses, push Lakers to double OT but get no reward

The basketball gods did the Pistons wrong.

Surely they deserved a better fate after coming from 17 points down against the defending NBA champions than to lose in double overtime.

On a night they were playing a back to back against a rested team. In a game they played without stars Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose and 3-point flame-thrower Wayne Ellington. To end an unrelenting road trip that took them to five cities and included a scrubbed game minutes from tipoff in the NBA’s year of the pandemic.

“We kept fighting,” said Delon Wright, one of three Pistons to log more than 45 minutes. “We got down in the first half and we just kept fighting. We kept believing in each other, kept passing the ball to each other and making the right plays. It tells us we can do it if we stay consistent.”

The Pistons, who beat the Lakers by 15 nine days earlier, outscored them 28-18 in the fourth quarter when it would have been easy to play out the string, shower and look forward to heading home after a grueling trip against a murderer’s row of opponents.

Jerami Grant matched his career high with 32 points, playing 48 minutes. Mason Plumlee went more than 47 minutes, in part due to foul trouble incurred by rookie Isaiah Stewart, and played himself to exhaustion. Wright played nearly 46 minutes and finished with 22 points and 10 assists. Josh Jackson came off the bench to score 25 points after halftime and finish with 28, his three triples in the mid-section of the fourth quarter key to the comeback.

All of that would have made for a euphoric cross-country flight back to Michigan if the Pistons would have been justly rewarded with a win.

Alas ...

“You have to make your own way,” Dwane Casey said after the 135-129 loss. “We didn’t do enough to get the win tonight, but we did enough to build on. It’s been a tough trip, starting in Denver with the COVID testing. I thought our guys bounced back – staying together, I thought we did. They were throwing haymakers at us tonight, but our guys stuck together.”

The Pistons got the full force of two of the NBA’s transcendent stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Davis’ 12 first-quarter points got the Lakers off and running and put the bedraggled Pistons in catch-up mode all night. If he was the opener, James was the closer, scoring eight of his 33 in the second overtime – including the layup to give the Lakers the lead for good and a triple with 1:17 remaining for a four-point lead.

On a night anyone would have understood a drubbing, the Pistons not only pushed a great team to the wall but required its two superstars to perform superstar feats to pull out the win.

“I’m happy with the way guys fought,” Jackson said. “We’ve just got to do it for a full 48 minutes – sometimes, as you saw tonight, even longer. It’s something we’re still working on. But really happy with the way guys fought.”

Griffin sat out, as he has all season, to avoid playing back-to-back games coming off of two knee surgeries since April 2019. Ellington, who made more than 50 percent of his 3-point shots in January, missed his second straight game with a calf strain. Rose sat out for what Casey said were “personal reasons.”

Nobody celebrates losses in the NBA and double-overtime losses are almost always devastating to the loser. But given the luxury of a little distance and perspective, the Pistons should find plenty of carryover value from Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss.

“We can definitely build off of it,” Wright said. “We take the champions to double overtime, that means we can compete with anybody in this league on any given night. It’s the NBA. We’re NBA players. We have to play with that chip on our shoulders each night.”