Pistons fall short despite fourth-quarter rally

By Kristie Rieken
Associated Press
Pistons forward Blake Griffin, left, and Houston Rockets center Clint Capela chase the ball during the first half.

Houston — The Pistons finished strong against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, but their rally was too little and too late.

The Rockets are on a roll, putting their terrible start behind them.

James Harden scored a season-high 43 points and Clint Capela added 27 to help Houston withstand a late run by the Pistons and get their fifth straight victory, 126-124.

They led by 14 with about five minutes left, but Blake Griffin made five 3-pointers that helped Detroit cut the lead to four with about 90 seconds left. Houston struggled to contain Griffin late after defensive stopper P.J. Tucker was ejected in the third quarter after he received two technical fouls for arguing with officials.

BOX SCORE:Rockets 126, Pistons 124

“With P.J. getting kicked out of the game early it put more minutes on our guys,” Harden said. “But we found a way to win. There’s going to be games like that where you’ve got to figure it out.”

Griffin had a turnover and a charge after his fifth 3-pointer and Harden, who made all 19 of his free-throw attempts, made two free throws to make it 122-116 with 19.1 seconds left. Ish Smith added a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three with 9.6 seconds left, but Harden made two more free throws.

Griffin was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 3.6 seconds remaining and made the first two free throws before missing the third. It was Harden at the line again after that, and he made both shots before Smith made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It was big,” Chris Paul said. “It was good for us. Blake got hot down the stretch … but for us as we keep saying it’s just about piling up wins.”

Griffin led the Pistons with 37 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Drummond added 20 points with 11 rebounds for the Pistons.

“At the end of the game, two turnovers down the stretch killed us,” Griffin said. “It doesn’t matter how many points you score … in the big moments, that’s where I have to be better.”

Detroit used a run to cut Houston’s lead to six with about six minutes left before the Rockets scored the next eight, with six from Harden to make it 113-99 about a minute later.

But Griffin made three 3-pointers, with the first two on consecutive possessions, to fuel a 9-2 run that got Detroit to 115-108 with 3 1/2 minutes left.

James Ennis made a 3-pointer for Houston after that, but Griffin scored the next five, with another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 118-113 with about two minutes left.

Harden added a basket on a goaltending call, but Griffin made yet another 3-pointer to make it 120-116 before his late errors.

The Rockets scored the first seven points of the third quarter to make it make it 65-57. But Detroit scored the next eight points, with 3-pointers by Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway to tie it a couple of minutes later.

Houston went on another run after that, outscoring Detroit 9-2, to take a 76-67 lead midway through the quarter. Harden got the Rockets going in that span with a 3-pointer and Capela capped it with four straight points.

The Rockets were up 81-73 later in the third when Tucker got hit by Griffin on a screen and began complaining to an official. He received a technical foul, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to get in the officials’ face and yell at him, drawing a second technical and an ejection.

Detroit made 16 3-pointers to give the team at least 10 in seven straight games, a franchise record.

Luke Kennard missed his 11th game with a sprained right shoulder and coach Dwane Casey said that he hasn’t been cleared for contact drills and will still be out for a while.

The Rockets have won eight of 10 to improve to 9-7.