Jazz rally to halt Pistons' modest win streak
Auburn Hills — The Pistons' team motto for the season to date could very well be: "We won't make it easy for ourselves"
They lived up to that billing against the Utah Jazz, a young team that hung around after the Pistons delivered a big body blow, and survived with a 97-96 win after Brandon Jennings' floating layup went wide with a little more than a second remaining, a shot diverted by Jazz forward Derrick Favors outstretched arms.
"I was the last option, Greg (Monroe) was the first," said Jennings, who scored a game-high 23 points, about the final play. "It's a shot I work on every day. It was just off."
The last play captured Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy's view of the final minutes, where missed free throws and missed assignments helped contribute to them falling to 2-4 with a four-game road swing that starts in Chicago Monday.
Gordon Hayward scored the final 11 points for the Jazz, which outscored the Pistons 19-9 after Detroit gained an 87-78 lead with nine minutes left.
But anyone who's watched this team knows wins cannot be counted as a foregone conclusion, and the Pistons, having played with fire in wins against the Knicks and Bucks, were bound to get burned.
And it was Hayward lighting the match. Hayward only finished with 17, but when it was clear the Jazz could steal the game, he stepped in, doing all of his scoring after the 4:46 mark. Van Gundy was livid on the sidelines through the fourth, and clearly perturbed when addressing late-game breakdowns.
"Down the stretch, no execution at either end, coming out of timeouts, not doing what we're supposed to do," Van Gundy said. "That's our reason you lose close games. If you get close shots you're supposed to get and miss them, OK. But if you can't run a play coming out a timeout, you deserve to lose."
Hayward was defended by veteran Caron Butler, who took responsibility for tied the game at 93, then gave the Jazz their first lead since halftime with a triple on their next possession, highlighting the Pistons' issues at their swingman spots as long as Jodie Meeks remains unavailable with his back injury.
"I take a lot of fault down the stretch, making it up on the fly and it cost us a couple buckets," Butler said. "Everybody wants it so bad, I don't think anybody's doing it intentionally. I missed up on three occasions, and two of the three got them a bucket. We have to stick to the script."
But part of Van Gundy's stated script has been to ride the hot hand, as he's been wont to do early on, and he didn't stick to it Sunday in regards to Jennings. Jennings scored 14 of his game-high 23 in the third quarter, including hitting back-to-back triples when the Jazz big men switched out on him.
They couldn't stop him during that time, and backup D.J. Augustin was ineffective for the most part during his two stints. Yet Van Gundy rolled with Augustin, who shot 2-for-9, until the 5:01 mark of the fourth, and the lead was cut to three — with the Jazz charging.
When Jennings' exited the game with two minutes remaining in the third, the Pistons built an eight-point lead, mostly due to his exploits.
"You definitely lose rhythm, especially when a team is hanging around like that, and they're getting momentum." Jennings said. "It's tough, because they have momentum and they have confidence."
Jennings dominated his matchup against a player many fans wanted drafted a year ago, Trey Burke, as Burke scored seven points with three assists in 24 minutes, as Jennings got him in foul trouble during Jennings' hot streak.
But despite Jennings' hitting eight of 15, the Pistons struggled from the field, shooting just 39 percent, and didn't have the excellent 3-point shooting from previous nights to bail them out, making just six of 23.
The Pistons big men, Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith, all struggled from the field with neither reaching the .500 mark, as many attempts were close in. Monroe finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Drummond was a force defensively for the first time, with 18 rebounds to go with 11 points.
Favors and Enes Kanter were up to the task, though, combining for 30 points and 23 rebounds, trying to negate the Pistons' supposed inside advantage.
"Look at how many shots we missed in the paint, that's become a problem," Van Gundy said. "Obvious we didn't shoot the ball well from 3 tonight, but we're missing a lot of (inside) shots, you can't do that."
What could've been an easy win was anything but, an opportunity they'll find hard to come by in the next week, where each opponent will likely provide a reminder about taking care of business at home.