Pistons slump in second half, fall to Magic
Auburn Hills — The sparse Palace crowd has seen this movie before, so much so the fans began exiting the building with the Pistons trailing by eight with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
They'd seen enough, especially against a young Orlando Magic team that moved the ball around with ease, taking advantage of a Pistons team that didn't show many of the few positive attributes they established on their four-game road trip.
Stan Van Gundy's first game against his former franchise certainly wasn't a memorable one, as the Pistons couldn't keep up with the Magic in the second half, falling 107-93 for their fifth loss in six games.
After 11 games, one has to wonder what kind of positive effect Van Gundy is having on his team so far. Their 41-point second half was witnessed by Pistons owner Tom Gores, who arrived right before game time.
Afterward, the words "fight or flight?" were written on a board in the Pistons locker room, along with the phrase "together or apart?" underlined for all to see.
In what came as a surprise, Van Gundy publicly acknowledged he made a tactical mistake, when he pulled Andre Drummond for Caron Butler with four minutes to go and the Pistons down eight.
"I made some questionable substitutions and stuff down the stretch," the coach said. "Andre played really well; I should've left him in the game in the end. Big mistake there."
Usually, Van Gundy declines to go into detail about what mistakes were made, be it from his end or player screw-ups, but he felt the need to fall on the sword for Drummond, when he wanted Greg Monroe on the floor as an offensive hub.
"In retrospect, Andre was playing the best of the three of them, and should've stayed in the game," Van Gundy said. "It was a mistake on my part. There's no two ways about it, you have to own up to your responsibility."
Drummond's productivity was better than Monroe or Smith, but it wouldn't take a monster night to win that medal. After two early field goals, Monroe went quiet and Smith made just three of seven shots, and didn't grab a rebound in 30 minutes (ninth time in his career), scoring seven points and adding five assists.
"Just trying to do my part as far as getting out on the elbow and, hopefully, I get long rebounds," said Smith, who had to defend Tobias Harris on the perimeter. "It wasn't possible because they made shots, pretty much all night."
Drummond had 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, and his three-point play pulled the Pistons to within one, 88-87, with eight minutes left. But they went 2-for-13 the rest of the way, again squandering a winnable game.
"When we don't get our inside game going, we struggle, we really do," Van Gundy said. "Our inside game never really got going. That's an area where we thought we could do some damage but we didn't."
The Pistons offense was again disjointed, despite hot spurts from Brandon Jennings and Butler. Jennings scored 12 in the first quarter, including hitting a corner triple while being fouled by rookie Elfrid Payton, and finished with 18 points.
The Pistons jumped out to an early lead, but it was clear they had no rhythm, shooting just 40 percent for the game. Smith and Monroe struggled against a frontline they had a perceived advantage against, particularly Monroe against Channing Frye.
Butler got cooking in the third quarter, after the Pistons were outscored 21-11 to start the half. He scored 13 on 4-of-5 shooting, but it was clear the Pistons couldn't live on a steady diet of solo acts while the Magic acted like an in-rhythm quintet, moving within the flow of the offense.
All Five Magic starters scored in double figures, with all 11 participants making a contribution in the scoring column. Before the game, Van Gundy said he feared the Magic's 3-point shooting, and it was for good reason as the Magic carved up the Pistons' defense like an early Thanksgiving turkey.
"They shot the ball well," Van Gundy said. "We didn't defend. They had us spread out."
The Magic had 33 assists on 41 field goals while shooting 52 percent, with the Pistons scrambling around the perimeter to cover the dangerous shooters. It was to no avail, especially against the forward duo of Harris and Frye, who combined to make seven of 12 3-pointers.
The Magic made 13 long balls, buoyed by the inside presence of Nikola Vucevic, the young Magic center who's finding his way after signing a big-money contract extension before the season.
He bullied and finessed his way to 25 points and 14 rebounds, while Monroe, Drummond and Smith couldn't find much productivity — leading to another fourth-quarter defeat, with no clear answers afterward.