Auburn Hills — Marcus Morris isn’t one to get too loud or rambunctious, whether it’s a big victory, such as his tip-in game-winner over the Washington Wizards on Saturday, or a loss, such as Monday night’s letdown against the Sacramento Kings.
In the aftermath of the Pistons’ 25th loss of the season, Morris was contemplative, looking to put the 109-104 defeat into the proper perspective.
“I didn’t think we let up; I just think we got punked,” Morris said. “That’s just how I feel.”
It was the second time the Pistons fell to the Kings (17-27) in the span of two weeks — both after blowing a double-digit lead. The Pistons were outrebounded, 44-37, and after jumping to a 38-28 lead after the first quarter, they were outscored, 37-24, in the second period, for a three-point halftime deficit.
“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,” Morris said. “The attitude of the game, they seemed like they wanted it more. They had a lot of toughness and played really hard.”
Part of that was on the reserves and coach Stan Van Gundy’s decision to go with a 10-man rotation, in the first game with the entire 15-man roster healthy. The Pistons started the second quarter with Ish Smith, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes, who gave up the lead in the first four minutes, after an 18-6 run.
Almost all those points came in the paint, as the Kings were able to get beyond the Pistons’ perimeter defenders and get high-percentage shots, including Ty Lawson, who had seven straight points during the stretch and 19 in the game.
“That (run) got them back but then we had plenty of time to get back in the game and we never did. That’s when it turned — we got caught,” Van Gundy said. “Our bench got crushed.”
Moving forward, how Van Gundy handles the bench rotation — and starting rotation, for that matter — could dictate how the Pistons finish in the last 37 games of the season. Although he’s a creature of habit in wanting a 10-man rotation, that likely would mean sitting either Bullock or Johnson.
In the past couple weeks, Johnson’s play has improved, with more playing time, because of injuries to Bullock and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, getting more playing time and getting time to get comfortable on the court without having to worry about getting pulled when he makes mistakes.
Van Gundy thwarted that notion, citing than most NBA players have to figure out how to be more effective in shorter playing spans — and usually earn more minutes by playing better in shorter spurts.
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was the focal point for the defense — and almost everyone got an opportunity to try to guard him throughout the game. The Kings didn’t dump the ball to Cousins in the post much in the first quarter but in the final minutes of the game, Cousins had six straight points to help keep the Pistons at bay.
Van Gundy doesn’t seem to like the matchup of using Andre Drummond on Cousins, because with Cousins’ versatile game of being able to score from 3-point range, on the perimeter, drive to the basket and score in the post, it’s tough for Drummond to keep up without getting himself into foul trouble.
Jon Leuer started the game guarding Cousins and as Leuer picked up fouls, Drummond had to take the assignment. Baynes also got some time, as well as Morris and Caldwell-Pope, in some cases because of switches.
Morris, at 6-foot-9, held his own, using his body and strength to try to keep Cousins from getting position and overpowering him. Morris contends that’s the best strategy for trying handle Cousins.
“He’s probably the big man in the league, from all areas on the court,” Morris said. “The most you can do is frustrate him; he’s hard to stop. For the most part, we did well, until like the last game, they came back in the fourth quarter.”