Auburn Hills — On many nights, the ball goes in the basket; on others, it’s just a struggle to get anything to go.
What usually doesn’t come every game is defense. For much of the season, the Pistons have been relying on their offense and playing defense just good enough to win games.
It’s not going to work every game.
It didn’t work Friday against the Toronto Raptors, who were missing All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. The Pistons held them under 90 points, but when the Pistons offense went cold, the defense didn’t matter anymore.
The Pistons managed just three field goals and nine points in the fourth quarter, turning a nine-point lead into an 87-75 loss at The Palace. It was the third straight defeat for the Pistons, who dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a win by the Miami Heat.
Reggie Jackson had 20 points and six assists and Harris 14 points and seven rebounds. Leuer added 12 points and Andre Drummond eight points and 22 rebounds for the Pistons (33-36).
“We haven’t been able to make any plays or any shots. You can’t shoot 35 percent, 15 percent from 3 and under 70 percent from the line with 13 turnovers — it’s amazing that game was ever a game,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s frustrating because our guys put out a really good defensive effort; they worked hard defensively and we made it tough on them until the last few minutes of the game.
“Our offense is just nowhere to be found.”
Van Gundy re-inserted Tobias Harris in the starting lineup, which didn’t get off to a good start hitting just three of its first 12 field goals. But when Leuer got going with the reserve unit, they provided a boost, overcoming a nine-point deficit in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons were in control, with a nine-point lead at the 9:31 mark. Ish Smith scored on a drive and Harris added two free throws and a putback, making it 73-62. The Raptors (40-29) answered with seven straight, with a 3-pointer and lay-in by P.J. Tucker (eight points and nine rebounds) and a lay-in by Norman Powell, who had six points during the Raptors’ decisive run.
Jackson scored on a drive at the 6:58 mark, for a 74-70 Pistons lead, but that was the only score until Jackson split a pair of free throws at the 1:17 mark. By then, the lead was in double figures and the comeback attempt was too late, finishing with a 24-3 run.
The Pistons shot only 15 percent (3-of-20 on 3-pointers) in the game and abysmal shooting in the fourth quarter hurt any chances for a comeback.
“You can’t win like that. You can’t get on guys about that; nobody is trying to miss. We went back and looked at the chart in the Utah game: we were 7-of-27 on uncontested shots; they were 14-of-27,” Van Gundy said. “You have to make shots and you can’t win with these percentages. (The Raptors) didn’t shoot it great either, but they made enough 3s and that was the difference.”
Tucker hit a 3-pointer, Powell added two baskets and Serge Ibaka (17 points and nine rebounds) had four points during the run. DeMar DeRozan (14 points) hit two free throws to make it 83-74 with 1:56 remaining and the rout was on.
In the third quarter, the Pistons trailed 53-46 before Jackson had back-to-back baskets, including a dunk. That ignited a 20-7 run over the final 6:45 of the period, with back-to-back baskets by Drummond and a pair of jumpers by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to give the Pistons the lead, 59-58, at the 3:00 mark.
The Pistons finished with the last seven points, on a 3-pointer by Marcus Morris — his first field goal, after starting 0-of-9 — along with a bank by Caldwell-Pope and a putback by Leuer just before the buzzer, for a 66-60 advantage entering the fourth.
The 28-point third quarter was their best of the game, but the shots didn’t fall in the fourth quarter, which was their undoing. They shot 35 percent for the game and just 3-of-20 (15 percent) from the field in the fourth quarter.
“You miss and make shots. We still played defense well enough to win that game,” Smith said. “It’s a miss-or-make league. You make some shots and you miss some.”
The Raptors jumped ahead, 12-3, in the first five minutes, before Harris hit a pair of free throws, ending their 1-of-9 start from the field. That started an 8-0 run, with four points by Harris and a jumper by Jackson. The Pistons took their first lead, 27-24, on a 3-pointer by Leuer at the 7:07 mark of the second quarter. That was part of a 10-0 run, with a follow-up three-point play by Leuer and a drive by Jackson, for the eight-point lead.