Detroit — Playing the second game in two nights and with their star struggling, shots not falling and their big man battling foul trouble, the Utah Jazz were ripe for a blowout on Saturday night.
Instead, the Pistons were given a reminder of what could have been, as Donovan Mitchell will likely haunt Detroit fans for the rest of his career.
They got an up close and personal look at his greatness in a 110-105 Jazz victory, a game the Pistons couldn’t put away despite leading by 18 early.
“Great teams go from an 18-point lead to a 28-point lead or 25 and they keep it there,” Blake Griffin said after scoring a game-high 34 points. “We just haven’t got to that level yet where we put our foot on people’s throats and don’t let up. That’s the next step for us. It’s a good lesson for us.”
Still, the Pistons (17-20) had a chance to tie late, down 108-105 with 12.3 seconds left, but forced to rush the ball up court without any timeouts.
Then, Reggie Jackson’s pass to Reggie Bullock off an Andre Drummond screen was high, and a Joe Ingles steal clinched the win.
Bullock, who made his first four 3-pointers, had 19 points. Andre Drummond finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds, while Griffin added 10 rebounds and five assists.
The finish was mostly about Mitchell, though, whom the Pistons passed over in the 2017 draft in favor of Luke Kennard with the 12th pick, one ahead of Louisville’s Mitchell.
While Kennard scored two points on five shots in 13 minutes, Mitchell scored 24 of his 26 points after halftime and made big shots down the stretch.
“I think he was just being more aggressive in the second half, making tough shots,” said Bruce Brown, who helped bottle up Mitchell in the first half. “But we thought we should’ve won this game. It just came down to crucial turnovers in the end.”
Mitchell scored seven straight late Utah points as Griffin tried to claw the Pistons back with 11 points of his own in the final 3:24.
But the Pistons had 18 turnovers on the night after just four in the first half.
When asked after the game if that was the team’s undoing, Pistons coach Dwane Casey was blunt: “Did you watch the game? … OK, that was our undoing.
“I thought the heart, the fight, the way we started the game is the way we have to play in this league, every possession. I thought our starters came out and did that and the second unit usually are the ones that come in and really move the ball and move, and we didn’t have that in the second quarter.”
The Detroit bench was outscored by Utah, 28-13.
The Pistons held the Jazz to a season-low 13 points in the first quarter, keeping Utah to 4-for-21 shooting (19.0 percent), and taking an 18-point lead.
Utah had a 19-4 run in the second quarter and got the lead down to two points twice late in the quarter, but Griffin beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to put the Pistons up 53-48.
The Jazz got the lead down to one with two baskets to open the second half, but Detroit went on a 10-0 run capped by 3-pointers from Griffin and Jackson to establish a 63-52 lead.
Mitchell had 12 points in the third quarter to close the deficit to 78-76.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert had nine points and 11 rebounds in a foul-plagued 26 minutes.
Detroit has now lost 13 of 17 games and will host San Antonio on Monday before a four-game West coast trip.
On the injury front, center Zaza Pachulia (right lower leg contusion) missed the third straight game for the Pistons.
And while Mitchell might terrorize Pistons fans going forward, he said a Detroit fan was among the reasons he got going on Saturday.
“I just came up and became more aggressive,” Mitchell said. “I stopped listening to the guy in the corner. He said something and it really just snapped for me. I don’t know what it was, and it shouldn’t take for somebody to say something for me to play the way I play. "But that’s what happened.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.