New York — The only numbers that mattered to Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy were 25, 25, 29 and 29.
Those were the points the Pistons allowed in each quarter to the New York Knicks.
It’s just more numerical evidence of the Pistons’ defensive struggles in the past few games, failing to get the stops they need even to stay close down the stretch.
The Pistons didn’t match the Knicks’ numbers and fell, 108-96, on Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The loss is the third straight for the Pistons (17-15), who got 19 points from Ersan Ilyasova and 17 points each from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris.
But scoring wasn’t the issue — defense continued to be the Achilles' heel.
“Every quarter, 25 (points) or more. We bring nothing defensively — nothing,” Van Gundy said. “Every quarter: 25, 25, 29, 29. There was not one stretch in that game where we played any defense.”
The Knicks, who ended their four-game skid, shot 54 percent, including 8-of-16 on 3-pointers.
Carmelo Anthony had 24 points, on 24 attempts, with some dogged defense by Morris, whom Van Gundy credited with some of the best play of the night.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope held Arron Afflalo to nine points, but those seemed to be the only bright spots.
“I thought Marcus fought pretty hard individually,” Van Gundy said. “I thought Pope individually on Afflalo fought pretty hard and that was it for defensive effort that I was happy with.”
Brandon Jennings, who suffered a torn Achilles in January, made his season debut, with seven points and four assists in 16-plus minutes. He entered in the first quarter and scored all his points after the game was already in hand for the Knicks.
The Pistons had a chance to come back in the fourth quarter, after Anthony hit a jumper just before the buzzer in the third quarter to give the Knicks a 79-72 lead. Stanley Johnson had a pair of baskets to cut the lead to four with 10:40 left, but that was as close as the Pistons could get the rest of the way.
The lead ballooned to 84-76 before Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer. The Knicks got a free throw from Derrick Williams (18 points), who added a steal and lay-in to push it back to eight. A baseline dunk by Williams and a subsequent vicious, reverse dunk by Williams cemented a double-digit lead for the Knicks, at 93-83, with 6:23 remaining.
“We didn’t get stops all night. We’re going to have to be a team that holds teams to under 23, under 20 in a quarter. We just have to be better defensively,” Jackson said. “At times, guys are playing hard individually but we’re not doing it as a team. We all have to be better — that’s myself, everybody, coach.”
The Pistons started with hot shooting themselves, hitting five of their first six shots, with a jumper and triple by Morris and a jumper by Ilyasova, taking an 11-8 lead in the first four minutes. The Knicks got going, with a couple baskets by rookie Kristaps Porzingis (10 points) and another two by Anthony, including a 3-pointer, to cut the lead to 15-13 at the 6:00 mark.
The Knicks stayed close, with back-to-back 3-pointers by Jose Calderon (15 points) along with another jumper.
New York’s bench was Detroit's undoing, outscoring its bench, 39-21. Kyle O’Quinn (12 points) hit three straight baskets and led the reserve surge. The Knicks took the lead on O’Quinn’s second basket and stretched it to a 38-31 advantage before they were done in the second quarter.
Afflalo connected on consecutive baskets but Drummond (13 points, nine rebounds) answered with a basket and Jackson hit a 3-pointer to trim the Pistons' deficit to 42-40 with 3:37 left before halftime. The Pistons got within one, but never led after the second quarter.
“It was a total team effort tonight on both ends … especially the defensive end,” Anthony said. “I think we did a great job of paying attention to details and we made it happen.”
The Knicks (15-18) opened the third quarter on a 15-5 spurt, with six points from Porzingis and two jumpers from Anthony to move ahead by 11. But Caldwell-Pope countered with a 3-pointer and Drummond had three straight baskets, for a 9-0 run to make it 65-63.
The defense struggled from there, giving up 58 second-half points, and couldn’t get the stops it needed down the stretch, leaving the Pistons to try to put the defensive pieces back together.
“After those first six minutes, the first group reestablished the way you are supposed to play to have a chance to win,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. “The guys in the second unit didn’t want to let their teammates down. It was good to see we put two halves of that together.”