Pistons sputter, finally ignite to end losing streak

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Midway through the third quarter, the Pistons’ season looked to be hanging in the balance. They were trailing the Phoenix Suns by 12 points and the offense was struggling for the fourth straight game.

And the Suns, who have the NBA’s third-worst record, only dressed eight players — playing without starting guards Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, as well as Brandon Knight, Leandro Barbosa and Tyson Chandler.

It had all the markings of being the Pistons’ worst loss of the season, with their slim playoff hopes resting on the final 12 games.

But they bounced back, pulling themselves out of another offensive slump and avoiding the embarrassing loss, bouncing back in the fourth quarter for a 112-95 victory on Sunday evening at The Palace.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 112, Suns 95

The victory ended a three-game losing streak for the Pistons (34-36), who play their next four games on the road against sub-.500 teams: Brooklyn, Chicago, Orlando and New York. With 12 games remaining, the Pistons are in the eighth spot, tied with the Miami Heat, who lost to Portland on Sunday.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 23 points and eight assists, Andre Drummond 18 points and 18 rebounds and Aron Baynes 13 points and a career-best 17 rebounds.

Coach Stan Van Gundy lauded Baynes’ effort — giving them strong defense and rebounding — along with Drummond.

“If you look over the last month, he’s been really good. His numbers weren’t great earlier in the year, but we still played really well with him on the floor,” Van Gundy said. “Seventeen rebounds in (18 minutes) — and Andre had 18 rebounds. Those guys did a really good job: our center spot got us 31 points and 35 rebounds.

“It’s hard to argue with that kind of production.”

The Suns (22-48) took their largest lead, 65-53, at the 6:19 mark of the third quarter, on back-to-back baskets by T.J. Warren (15 points). Ish Smith answered with a 3-pointer, and after the Suns’ Tyler Ulis (17 points and 11 assists) countered with a jumper, the Pistons went on a 12-2 run.

Jon Leuer had a three-point play, Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer and Morris added a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 67-65 with 3:46 left.

“I just thought we took it for granted,” Morris said. “They were up in us and playing a lot harder than us. Once we matched their energy and toughness, it was an easy game.”

The teams traded baskets until the Pistons took control in the final minute, when Smith scored on a drive and ignited an 11-0 spurt over the next two minutes. Caldwell-Pope followed with a drive and Baynes scored the next seven points: two free throws, a tip-in and a dunk and foul, completing the three-point play with 11:14 left.

Warren ended the run with a putback, but the Pistons started a new run, with back-to-back 3-pointers by Leuer and Reggie Jackson (14 points), part of a 10-3 spurt, pushing the lead to 12 after an alley-oop from Jackson to Drummond.

From there, the Pistons made 5 of 6 free throws and added to the lead, with another alley-oop from Caldwell-Pope to Drummond and a lay-in by Jackson, boosting the lead to 101-82 at the 3:32 mark — helping Pistons fans breathe easily from what would have been a monumental loss.

“We just wanted to come out in the second half; in the first half, we were out of control trying to force things,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We came out in the second half and slowed the pace down and played simple basketball.”

The Pistons got off to another slow start, as the Suns jumped to a 15-8 lead in the first four minutes. The Suns went cold from there, as the Pistons scored the next 16 points, with seven points from Morris (16 points), a jumper by Jackson and finishing with back-to-back baskets by Baynes.

The Pistons led, 24-15, but the Suns finished the quarter on an 8-0 run and added the first five points of the second period, pulling ahead, 28-24. The Suns made it a 16-2 spurt, as Jarell Eddie — who signed a 10-day contract before the game — had a basket and three free throws after a foul, part of his career-high 13 points.

The Suns’ lead grew to 38-30 at the 6:16 mark, but Caldwell-Pope hit two technical free throws after illegal-defense calls against the Suns and then added a 3-pointer. He finished the Pistons’ 12-2 spurt with a 3-pointer, for a 42-40 lead. The Pistons fell behind again, with Ulis hitting a pair of baskets during the final three minutes and the Suns led, 49-47, at halftime. @detnewsRodBeard