Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks, left, and assistant coach Maz Trakh look confused in the fourth quarter of Friday night's loss to the Pelicans. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Twice, The Palace of Auburn Hills crowd sat in stunned silence during the Pistons’ Friday night loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The first instance was during their stunning, impressive, 30-4 run that took place in the third quarter, when they turned a 10-point deficit into a 16-point lead that had many feeling this team had, at least, begun to arrive for the 2013-14 season — albeit 42 games late.
Brandon Jennings was barking at backup point guard Austin Rivers, showing all the swagger Pistons fans thought they were getting upon his acquisition over the summer.
A fan in the lower bowl even could be heard saying, “Where’s this team been?” and one can bet Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks probably was thinking the same thing.
The second time, though, was the familiar scene Pistons fans have become too accustomed to this season — confusion on the floor and on the sideline, and the opposing team taking advantage and dancing off The Palace floor, having stolen a win.
One can bet that same fan uttered the phrase, “Oh, that’s the team I know and love” on his way out of the building, as his emotions likely teetered from anger to disappointment to disbelief, considering the collection of talent that’s been assembled can’t seem to put together decent stretches of games, let alone sustained efforts of consistency within a game.
That Friday game, featuring the ups and downs and outright rollercoaster worthy of Cedar Point’s attention, describes this team’s season to date.
Up and (mostly) down
Dazzling, then puzzling.
Brilliant moments, eye-popping glimpses of athleticism and instinctive play that leaves you on the edge of your seat, followed by too many brain-dead moments that make you question the Pistons’ basketball IQ — like something as simple as calling a timeout with 1.9 seconds left when you still have a chance to tie or win the game.
Cheeks stood with team director of security Jerry Hendon for at least three minutes after the conclusion of Friday’s loss as a fan in the second row berated the coach with words that won’t be read in this space. Cheeks looked like he wanted to choke said fan — or at least stare at the fellow long enough to make him re-think such disrespectful obscenities.
Or perhaps that look was for his team, which didn’t call one of its two remaining timeouts that could’ve advanced the ball to halfcourt before drawing up a play that conceivably could’ve won the game or sent it to overtime.
Cheeks said he didn’t relay the message to his players, and even if he had, Cheeks would’ve taken the bullet afterward. Rodney Stuckey, one of the two who stuck around to speak with the media after another head-scratching loss, said the players should’ve known to call a timeout.
No matter who it’s on, it was a collective failure in a game they should’ve won — like Wednesday night’s collapse against the Milwaukee Bucks.
While this team certainly believes it’s better than its 17-26 record — a mark that’s just a half-game out of a playoff spot but falling further away from teams who are merely mediocre — the Pistons can’t afford to take parts of games off with the expectation of putting it together later.
Just like they can’t keep giving away games with the mantra of “we’ve still got plenty of basketball left.” Quietly, Cheeks seems to be losing patience with going over the same talking points.
“They got loose balls that kept it alive for them, enabling them to get 3-point shots,” Cheeks said. “That was it. When it comes down to fourth quarter, we’ve been over situations like that. Been over them. They continue to get loose balls, continued to get second shots, more opportunities.”
Because they let Brian Roberts and Rivers break down an already teetering Pistons defense, putting Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith in bad positions due to the “help and recover” part of defense, it enabled the Pelicans earn a 10-point lead early in the third quarter.
“They got back into it with some defensive lapses and some three-point shots,” Cheeks said. “Our perimeter defense was like that all game where they were getting a crack and getting inside. That’s how they’ve been scoring.”
Same old Pistons
Had there been any sense of urgency — with the exception of a few players — leading up to the 30-4 run, it would’ve put an overwhelmed opponent away and sent the Pistons on the road feeling better about themselves instead of scrambling for answers.
Their late-game issues always will be that, because Jennings isn’t yet mature enough to make late-game decisions befitting of a veteran point guard — he’s played one way his whole life — but it doesn’t mean this team can’t do more to help itself before the game gets tight.
Perhaps its too early to completely write the Pistons’ epitaph, but can they argue with the assertion that this is who they are?
Good enough to get the answers right, but not smart enough to recognize the urgency of the moment.