Joe Johnson’s shot at the buzzer of double overtime cost the Pistons a win on Friday night, but Saturday’s loss traces to even before that – to the rebound the Pistons couldn’t corral at the end of regulation in Brooklyn when grabbing it would have sealed a win and eliminated the need for 10 more minutes of basketball.
Never mind that it would have delivered them home to bed nearly an hour earlier, it was the drain of playing 58 minutes – with four core players logging 40 or more minutes – that really cut the legs out from underneath the Pistons in their 88-77 slugfest with Indiana.
The Pistons spotted the Pacers an early 15-0 run, recovered to tie before the first quarter was out and held their own for the next two quarters in a hand-to-hand combat game in which style points were negligible.
But fatigue overtook them in the fourth quarter, when their offense ground to a halt while Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince – all of whom played at least 43 minutes against the Nets – caught their breath on the bench. The Pacers weren’t great either, and they lost All-Star center Roy Hibbert to a thigh injury late in the first half, but they had just enough more than the Pistons did to fashion a 13-6 “spurt” over the first eight minutes of the fourth as Detroit’s offense ground to a halt.
“It was there for the taking, either way,” Lawrence Frank said. “They had a little more push-back and we just didn’t quite have enough.”
The loss was the fourth straight for the Pistons since winning at Cleveland a week ago and drops them to 7-19.
The game nearly got away from them out of the gate, which was a legitimate concern at tipoff given the toll Friday’s game took. From a 6-2 Pistons lead, Indiana ran off a 15-0 streak.
“We just have to find a way to spark some energy early,” said Greg Monroe, who led the Pistons with 18 points and added eight rebounds after playing 43 minutes at Brooklyn. “It was a tough game last night, but that’s no excuse. They played last night, also. We have to come out and find a way to find some energy within ourselves.”
The energy they found came from their bench. Frank waved in Rodney Stuckey and Andre Drummond well earlier than usual, before the quarter was halfway complete, when Indiana had taken its 17-6 lead, and they immediately turned momentum, sparking an 8-0 run – Stuckey taking care of the scoring, Drummond controlling the paint. Stuckey finished with 15 points and seven assists, Drummond with 11 points, nine boards and three blocks in 29 minutes, the second most he’s played.
“Whenever me and Stuckey come in the game, we look at each other and say, ‘All right, let’s get these guys going. Let’s start running.’ So we do. We try to push the ball and get the fast break going.”
“Those guys have given us leads in a lot of games,” Monroe said. “They’ve played well. We have to find a way as a team to just stick with it and get stops and keep our energy level up, our intensity up, to finish games.”
Drummond finished the third quarter with a particular flourish, jamming home a Corey Maggette miss to pull the Pistons within three points, drawing a charge from Paul George and covering vast space to get from the basket to block a Sam Young 3-point attempt at the buzzer to keep it a one-possession game going to the fourth quarter.
But the Pistons missed 9 of 12 shots to start the quarter and when David West, who went to the bench with four fouls midway through the third quarter, finally got it going in the fourth, that was enough to give Indiana breathing room. West, who’s long been a tough cover for the Pistons, scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“West to start the (fourth) quarter imposed his will,” Frank said. “We got stale. We weren’t able to get to the line in the second half and we weren’t able to grind. … It’s a grind-fest. You could see it early. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”