Brandon Jennings’ point-blank baseline floater rimmed in and out, which was followed by the usually-confident guard showing a display of frustration in the form of an exasperated sigh as play went downcourt.
Some 15 seconds before that, Andre Drummond wore the same expression, holding up his left hand as a sign he was attempting to play defense on Bobcats center Al Jefferson as the nimble big man scored over the top of Drummond’s outstretched arms.
For the most part, the effort was evident, as the situation called for teamwide desperation out of the All-Star break, as the Pistons were against a Charlotte Bobcats team that is between them and the postseason — a team they’ll play again 24 hours later.
The Bobcats appear to be a bad matchup for the Pistons, in the same vein the Brooklyn Nets can’t solve the Pistons, as the Bobcats took the second of two meetings Tuesday at The Palace, 108-96 as the Bobcats stretched their lead on the Pistons to a 1.5 games.
Although there’s 29 games left, this loss was crucial as they lose the tiebreaker with the Bobcats in the event they end up with identical records at seasons’ end.
The Bobcats’ urgency was evident from the tip, while the Pistons looked a step slow, leading to Jefferson’s big night.
Jefferson scored 32 with 121 rebounds and seven assists on 15 of 28 shooting, scoring consecutive field goals when the Bobcats lead was cut to eight with over two minutes remaining.
Jefferson’s combination of experience, quickness and a trick bag of post moves that would make Kevin McHale smile was too much for Drummond and Greg Monroe, as he continued his onslaught after scoring 15 fourth-quarter points in their December meeting, a game the Pistons lost after leading by 20.
“He’s a bad matchup for the league,” said interim head coach John Loyer of Jefferson, who’s scored 30 or more in six of his last nine games.
“It’s very disappointing. Especially against someone we’re fighting against. I thought our energy level, concentration would’ve been better. We didn’t start out with the mindset we needed to have.”
The Bobcats’ much-improved defense kept the Pistons to shooting just under 40 percent from the field. The Pistons also shot an underwhelming 57 percent from the line.
The Bobcats started off the game missing two of their first 10 shots, with one resulting in a score from an offensive rebound. Shooting 64 percent in the first quarter gave them an 11-point lead and prevented the Pistons from getting out in the open floor.
“You can’t give a team that made how many they made in a row (six),” Loyer said. “Confidence, energy, it puts you in a hole. You can’t spot them that many points because you have to play perfect and have the ball bounce your way to win the game.”
Their effort came in bursts, but had critical lapses throughout, with nearly every one of the Bobcats’ five offensive rebounds leading to a score (11 second-chance points).
“We have to have that energy, play with passion,” said reserve guard Will Bynum, who had nine points and six assists. “It’s critical games for us. Every game is a playoff game. We’ll find ourselves on the outside looking in if we keep doing this.”
Drummond tried to trigger a comeback with another double-double (16 points, 22 rebounds), while Monroe shook off a slow start to score 18 with 10 rebounds. All five Pistons starters scored in double figures, including Josh Smith, who shot five for 17 (12 points, 11 rebounds).
Rodney Stuckey, a candidate to be traded by Thursday’s deadline, gave the Pistons next to nothing in 17 minutes, missing 10 of 11 shots.
Their slow start in the first quarter had them playing from behind all night, and they played with vigor with the exception of a few possessions where they couldn’t corral a couple loose balls — it was just Jefferson and their seasonlong bugaboo, dribble penetration, that aided Jefferson’s monster night.
“He’s a matchup nightmare. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and make sure we’re giving the best effort we can, individually,” Bynum said.
Kemba Walker scored 22 with six assists while forward Josh McRoberts scored 14 with 10 rebounds.
The urgency may have been there at times, but the results for Act II of the Pistons’ season came out like many in Act I — not enough of something.