Good start little consolation for Pistons in loss

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

San Antonio — There are no prizes awarded for playing a good first half.

But when that good half is followed by a lackluster second half, the booby prize usually is a loss — especially when it comes against the San Antonio Spurs.

For the Pistons to get a road win was a difficult task to begin with Wednesday night, as the Spurs had notched a 28-0 mark at AT&T Center this season.

BOX SCORE: Spurs 97, Pistons 81

The Pistons had a good start in the first half, but withered in the third quarter, ending their four-game winning streak with a 97-81 loss to the Spurs.

The Spurs were 7-1 on their annual “Rodeo Road Trip,” with eight straight away games because of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo at the AT&T Center.

Their homecoming went much like the rest of their season, with strong defense anchoring their effort and the dual threat of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge controlling the action. The Pistons (31-30) didn’t have an answer for the duo, who combined for more than half of the Spurs offense.

Leonard had 17 of his 27 points in the first half and Aldridge added 15 of his 23 in the second half, providing the lift the Spurs (51-9) needed to win their sixth straight.

The Pistons spread the ball around — including nine assists on their first 12 field goals in the first quarter — and trailed by only one at halftime, but the wheels came off in the third quarter, as the Spurs clamped down and allowed just 30 points in the second half.

“They play great defense, so you can give them a lot of credit, but we were very individual in the second half,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We did not play together, we did not move the ball, we didn’t get second and third options.

“It was a lot of one-on-one, a lot of forced shots — and then it got contagious.”

In a game featuring big runs, the Pistons were undone by the Spurs’ kick-start in the third quarter, en route to a 27-14 margin in the period. The Pistons managed just 22 percent shooting (4-of-18), while the Spurs galloped at 52 percent. Aldridge had 13 points in the period, almost outscoring the Pistons himself.

He opened the quarter with a jumper, igniting a 12-3 run that pushed the lead to double digits for the first time, 64-54.

Aldridge had two jumpers and Tony Parker six of his 10 points during the flurry, along with a drive by Tim Duncan (12 points). The Pistons closed within 11 later in the third, but the Spurs had another 6-0 run — with another jumper and two free throws by Aldridge — to take their biggest lead to that point, 79-62.

The back-and-forth between Leonard and Aldridge was nothing new to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: “He and LaMarcus were really offensive juggernauts for us. They did a great job.”

Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris each had 16 points and Andre Drummond added nine points and 14 rebounds, ending his streak of 13 double-doubles. Harris had 13 first-half points, but managed just one field goal in the second half.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (four points) struggled, going 1-for-10 from the field, but the lack of ball movement seemed to take all of the mojo the Pistons had established in the first quarter.

“The ball just stuck and they’re the best defensive team in the league, so they made us pay for not making them work,” said Reggie Jackson, who had 11 points. “They got out in transition and just played ball, maybe not transition baskets, but the way they move in the halfcourt was really difficult to guard and they continued to find good shots.

“They forced us into turnovers and bad shots.”

Caldwell-Pope converted a three-point play with 1.2 seconds left to pull the Pistons within 14 after the third. The Pistons’ 14 points in the third quarter were the fewest the Spurs — the No. 1 defensive team in the league — allowed this season.

The Pistons didn’t get within double digits the rest of the way.

“We weren’t ready to play to start the third quarter. It was just like the game in Detroit,” Van Gundy said. “We weren’t ready. They came out with a lot more energy. They scored on their first four possessions; we were walking around and we just quit playing together.”

In the first quarter, the Pistons had a hot start, getting nine assists on their first 12 field goals. But the Spurs were a little better, shooting 55 percent, on the way to a 28-26 lead.

In the second quarter, the Pistons took their first lead, after a 6-0 spurt, with two jumpers from Morris and two free throws from Aron Baynes.

Drummond was derailed by two early fouls in the first four minutes of the game, but the Pistons held on behind Baynes, who finished with 12 points.