Pistons put up fight but Warriors pull out late win

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — It was close, but close doesn’t count in basketball — especially against the Golden State Warriors.

The Pistons gave the best in the NBA one of their best efforts of the season, but it wasn’t enough.

The NBA isn't about moral victories, but the Pistons had a solid effort and showed that they can play with anybody in the league. Now they’ll just have to turn that effort into wins.

Following a decisive flurry in the final two minutes, the Warriors dropped the Pistons, 119-113, on Friday night before a sellout crowd at The Palace.

BOX SCORE: Warriors 119, Pistons 113

On a night the Pistons changed their lineup — moving Tobias Harris to the bench and Jon Leuer to the starting five — Harris responded with a second-high 26 points and added seven rebounds. The Pistons, though, lost their fifth straight, with another showdown game, against the world-champion Cavaliers, looming on Monday.

“We didn’t win. Tobias played great. That was a very, very professional response from a high-character guy,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He was disappointed about not starting and has his season high, plus got seven rebounds. That’s a professional performance.”

Kevin Durant had 32 points and eight rebounds, Steph Curry had 25 points and eight assists and Klay Thompson 17 points for the Warriors (27-4), who were playing the second game of a back-to-back.

“We couldn’t guard them. Look at their numbers. We forced 23 turnovers, we were aggressive and played hard,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not faulting our effort at all. Our guys gave a great effort today, but we just couldn’t guard them.”

The game featured 18 lead changes — the most in a Golden State game this season — and the Pistons (14-18) were tied at 110 with 1:40 left, after a pair of free throws by Reggie Jackson (17 points, six assists).

Draymond Green (five points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) got free for a dunk and Thompson added a jumper for a four-point advantage. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answered with a leaning jumper to cut the lead to two with 40.9 seconds left, but Thompson came through again, with a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound with 22.1 seconds left, for a 117-112 lead.

The Warriors fouled Drummond, who made one of two free throws, cutting the lead to four. The Pistons had another chance to cut the lead to one possession but missed on a desperation shot and Curry hit two free throws to put the game away.

Harris kept the Pistons in it with extended minutes, after Marcus Morris got in foul trouble in the first half. Harris powered down a dunk on a pass from Leuer with 31.7 seconds left in the third period. He had another basket waved off after a video review showed his tip-in came just after the third-quarter buzzer that left the Warriors with an 88-84 lead.

Harris took the move to the bench in stride, “There’s a time to shut up, put your big-boy pants on and just be ready to play — that’s the bottom line,” Harris said. “Do what you can to help your team. That’s what I’m trying to do: make an impact coming off the bench and play hard and do whatever I can to help our team win.”

The Pistons made an opening surge in the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run, punctuated by another dunk by Harris off a transition pass from Stanley Johnson. Aron Baynes added back-to-back baskets and Caldwell-Pope (25 points) had a driving lay-in and the Pistons had a 95-90 lead.

The Warriors answered with six straight points, including back-to-back jumpers by Durant, but on the ensuing play, Durant picked up his fifth foul and went to the bench with 7:14 left.

After a 3-pointer by Ish Smith, the Warriors’ Ian Clark had consecutive back-door lay-ins but Caldwell-Pope answered with a jumper and a 3-pointer that bounced high above the backboard and fell in, giving the Pistons a 104-102 advantage.

Curry responded with a floater and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions for a 107-104 lead with 3:16 left. Harris answered with a 3-pointer to tie it again. The Warriors kept coming, though, after a free throw by Jackson. Durant hit a 3-pointer and after another pair of free throws by Jackson, it was tied again at 110. The Warriors surged for the final flurry and final margin.

“My team gave a great effort and when your team plays that hard and you still can’t guard them, then I have to look in the mirror,” Van Gundy said. “Clearly, we didn’t give them a good enough game plan, because our effort was good.”

Both teams traded runs in the first quarter, with the Warriors jumping ahead, 11-4 and the Pistons responding to tie it at 13. Golden State had another 10-3 spurt but the Pistons scored the next eight points to take a 24-23 lead. JeVale McGee (15 points) had two straight baskets and Smith answered with two consecutive makes and the quarter finished with a 33-32 Warriors lead.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard