Auburn Hills — Just when it looked like the Pistons were starting to turn things around with their three-game winning streak, they got another dose of reality to cool them down.
They were within a game of the No. 8 spot in the East and had a home game against the Sacramento Kings, who had lost five straight and were in the midst of an eight-game trip. And the Kings were without Rudy Gay — who’s lost for the season because of an Achilles injury — making it look more and more like a favorable matchup.
Not so fast.
Just as in their meeting in Sacramento on Jan. 10, the Pistons built a double-digit lead — and gave it up. In the first meeting, it was an 18-point Pistons advantage that evaporated in the fourth quarter. On Monday night, it was an 11-point lead in the second period.
The result ended up being the same, as the Kings completed the season sweep over the Pistons, 109-104, at The Palace, ending the Pistons’ streak and raising more question marks about where they are heading.
“Coming off a three-game win streak and playing against a pretty good team — not taking anything away from Sacramento — I felt like we should have taken care of business,” said Marcus Morris, who had 13 points. “(The difference was) the attitude of the game. They seemed like they wanted it more; they had a lot of toughness and played really hard.”
Reggie Jackson had 18 points and 11 assists and Jon Leuer and Tobias Harris 15 points each for the Pistons (21-25), who don’t play again until Saturday at Miami.
The roles switched Monday, as the Pistons had a double-digit deficit heading into the fourth quarter, but stayed close down the stretch, getting within four with a minute left. They just couldn’t get any closer.
DeMarcus Cousins (22 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) hit a fadeaway jumper with 38.8 seconds left to push the lead to 107-101 and the Kings (17-27) added free throws down the stretch for the final margin, ending their five-game losing streak.
Cousins had six points down the stretch, including a dunk, two free throws and the jumper. He finished 8-of-21 from the field, but the Pistons did a better defensive job on him throughout the game.
“He’s a great player; he didn’t have a great night and they were minus with him on the floor,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought their guards really hurt us more than he did. He’s a tough matchup; not taking anything away from him.
“You hold him under 40 percent and get him to turn the ball over six times and I don’t think that’s the biggest problem.”
Van Gundy pointed to the Kings’ presence in the paint — 47 of their 82 field-goal attempts —and not being able to stop their dribble penetration. Darren Collison (12 points, 4-of-5 field goals) and Ty Lawson (19 points, 7-of-11 field goals) were the main culprits.
“Some of it was pick-and-roll but a lot of that was just one-on-one defense,” he said. “We couldn’t keep their guards in front of us at all. Lawson and Collison hurt and Cousins was going off the dribble. We didn’t defend guys off the dribble at all.”
The Pistons trailed, 88-81, entering the fourth quarter, after Harris appeared to beat the shot clock with a jumper with 1.1 seconds remaining. But a video review showed that he released the ball after the buzzer and the shot was negated.
Lawson and Willie Cauley-Stein (12 points) had back-to-back lay-ups to start the fourth and Aron Baynes answered with a jumper. After Matt Barnes hit a 3-pointer, Jackson followed with a 3-pointer and Andre Drummond (14 points, 12 rebounds) scored on a lob from Jackson, to trim the lead to 96-90 with 8:08 left.
But the Pistons defense relented, giving up a drive to Malachi Richardson and a 3-pointer to Lawson stretching the lead back to 11. The Pistons answered again, with a drive by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a floater by Jackson and a lay-in by Morris off a pass from Caldwell-Pope, getting them back within 101-96 at the 5:24 mark.
Cousins answered again with a spin and dunk, and Caldwell-Pope followed on a drive to the basket. Cousins hit a pair of free throws and Jackson followed with one free throw, plus a Drummond lay-in on a pass from Leuer, to make it 105-101.
That was the last basket for the Pistons until a desperation 3-pointer by Caldwell-Pope, who returned after missing four games because of a shoulder injury.
The Pistons steamed out to a 10-5 lead in the first 3 1/2 minutes, including a pair of 3-pointers by Leuer and a baseline jumper by Morris. The Kings responded with a 3-pointer by Arron Afflalo and back-to-back baskets by Kosta Koufos, to pull ahead, 12-10.
Leuer led another run, with a 3-pointer, followed by a three-point play by Caldwell-Pope. Leuer finished the quick spurt with a lay-in off a lob pass from Jackson. The Pistons made 7 of their first 12 field goals, but didn’t get many stops on the Kings, who shot 55 percent (11-of-20) in the first half.
As impressive as the Pistons were offensively in posting 38 points in the opening quarter, they gave it up just as quickly. In the first four minutes of the second period, the Kings ran off an 18-6 spurt, torching the Pistons reserves.
Lawson had seven straight points during that stretch, with a three-point play, a jumper and a goaltending call. Barnes added a lay-in and Cauley-Stein a tip-in for a 46-44 lead at the 8:23 mark. Harris ended the spurt with a driving dunk.