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Pistons threaten but falter at finish in loss to Nets

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

New York — Three chances, the Pistons had to overtake the Brooklyn Nets Sunday in a game where the Nets couldn't put the Pistons away.And the Pistons didn't have the execution to take advantage of a game that was there for the taking.

The final 18 seconds didn't have as much to do with the Pistons' 110-105 loss as the other as 47 minutes, but it was critical in a result that has them losers of 17 in their last 19 games.

Jodie Meeks airballed a three-point attempt off an inbounds pass with 15 seconds left that could've given the Pistons a one-point lead.

"He got a screen, a pretty open look. It's on me," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "If you don't want that shot, don't run that play. We talked about it that we didn't need a three. You got a career 40-percent shooter with a wide open look. He just missed it."

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (20 points), one possession after hitting a 3-pointer to cut the Nets lead to one, had Alan Anderson draped all over him with seven seconds left as he fired an errant three-point attempt that could've tied the game at 108.

"I came out clean (off a screen)," Caldwell-Pope said. "It was a good look, it just didn't go down."

Then Josh Smith (13 points), in what would've been most unlikely of scenarios, missed the front end of two free throws after Kevin Garnett missed both of his, ending the possibility of a Pistons threat with four seconds left.

Of course, Smith would've had to make the first, miss the second and his team would've had to come up with an offensive rebound for a desperation shot that could've won the game.

They put themselves in a position like this have so many times this season, allowing an opponent to build a big lead and then having to play perfect to give themselves a chance down the stretch.

The Nets were up 98-83 after starting strong in the fourth quarter. The Pistons stayed close but never truly stalked the Nets until things got desperate late. The bench, which got the Pistons back into the game before halftime, couldn't sustain things thereafter.

"Our bench shot over 60 percent for the game," said Van Gundy of the unit led by Greg Monroe (16 points), Jonas Jerebko (10 points) and Meeks (13 points). "The interesting thing is, whichever lineup plays well in the first half plays poorly in the second half. That second unit in the second half got buried. And then we had to come back with everybody else to get back in the game."

Monroe, Meeks and Jerebko, helped pull the Pistons back to within two at the half with a 33-point second quarter.

Andre Drummond, the player with so much room to grow, was still productive, grabbing 20 rebounds and scoring 18 points. He and Caldwell-Pope were the catalysts in the late comeback that came up short.

"You take positives out of this, is your two 21-year-old guys, both playing really well," Van Gundy said. "It's not like there's no up. There's some hope here, it's not like nothing is going on."

Van Gundy bemoaned having to spend so much practice and preparation time to fix an anemic offense instead of improving his leaky defense. After Sunday's game, he'll probably take his pick as to which frustrated him more.

Even Caldwell-Pope, the team's leading scorer, made 6 of 15 shot attempts, although five of them came from 3-point range. Drummond's impressive night was fueled in part by the Pistons' woeful start shooting.

The Pistons' starters were so ineffective offensively (no player shot over 50 percent), their best strategy was to throw something, anything, near the rim and hope and pray the ball landed in Drummond's massive mitts, as he tied an NBA season high with 13 offensive rebounds.

But it was nothing compared to the team's atrocious defense, giving up 53 percent shooting and allowing the Nets to repeatedly carve up the Pistons for 29 assists.

When asked if the Nets got whatever they wanted in the first quarter, Van Gundy quipped : "I thought the first four quarters, they pretty much got what they wanted," he said.

The Nets — playing without point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez — found a way to repeatedly gash a disinterested and step-late Pistons defense all evening, as all but one starter shot over 50 percent.

Lopez is one of the better low-post options in the league, but with the alternative being the energetic and springy Mason Plumlee, they would've been better served with Lopez' deliberate game as opposed to the wild card in Plumlee.

Plumlee dominated the Pistons, merely by getting up and down the floor, scoring 21 with 12 rebounds and two blocked shots. He achieved this feat by missing only one of his nine shot attempts, most of them three feet or less from the basket.

"He's somebody that has a similar game to me so it puts me to the test to see how I'm going to play against other bigs," Drummond said. "I think when I came back in the second half I did a better job of containing him on some of the shots he's comfortable getting."

Van Gundy summed up the night — and the season, succinctly.

"We made a lot of mistakes early on. We never defended. We're not gonna win that way."