New York — For much of the Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, the Pistons looked like a teenager who’s trying to finish a paper at the last minute: lots of good work, followed by some sloppy effort, then a frenetic finish to try to pull everything together.
And it almost worked.
That is, until Nets did something about it.
The Pistons worked their way back from a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes to tie it 2.4 seconds left. Then the Nets ended it on a buzzer-beating jumper by Brook Lopez for a 98-96 win, sending the Barclays Center crowd into a frenzy, after just their ninth home win of the season.
The loss dealt a blow to the Pistons’ dimming playoff hopes, as the Miami Heat won and moved into the eighth and final spot, a game ahead. The Chicago Bulls — whom the Pistons play Wednesday night, lost and remained a game behind.
Ish Smith had 12 of his 16 points in leading the fourth-quarter comeback and summed up the disappointment best.
“Ish came into the locker room and said, ‘I knew that was going in when he shot it.’” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I said, ‘Why’d you say that?’ He said, ‘because we (messed) around with the game and it’s basketball karma.
“I don’t know if I believe in karma, but that means we lost the game in the other part of it. We didn’t deserve to win tonight; they did deserve to win tonight and the result is probably what it deserved to be.”
Lopez finished with 29 points and seven rebounds, but nothing was more crucial than the game-winner.
“I was very confident in it (going in),” Lopez said. “We executed so well on that last play, which is something that I’ve learned throughout the season to do.”
While the Pistons had several defensive breakdowns throughout the game, Van Gundy wasn’t disappointed in the last possession, because of the degree of difficulty on Lopez’s shot.
“I thought the defense was pretty good (on the last play) — he shot a one-foot stepback off his left foot, on the move,” Van Gundy said. “I didn’t think they got a great, clean look. He’s 7-foot-2 and made a hell of a shot.”
The Pistons (34-37) almost got away with the procrastination with a good first quarter, shooting 62 percent, then following with 23 percent in the second and 35 percent in the third, falling into a 74-65 deficit. But Smith led the comeback, scoring the first eight points, followed and Tobias Harris (24 points) tied it on a putback of a Marcus Morris miss to tie it at 96 with 2.4 seconds left.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 points and Andre Drummond 13 points and 17 rebounds.
After Smith’s fourth-quarter run, Morris (13 points) hit a 3-pointer and the Nets’ lead was down to 79-76 with 7:26 left. The Nets (14-56) answered with a drive by Quincy Acy and a 3-pointer by Lopez pushed the lead back to seven.
Lopez kept the momentum, hitting a putback and a second-chance 3-pointer after a Harris dunk and the margin again was eight.
Smith got more assertive down the stretch, scoring four of the next six Pistons points, with a jumper, a reverse by Morris and a lay-in by Smith, trimming the lead to 89-87 with 2:51 left.
The Nets looked to pull away with a lay-in by Lopez and a 3-pointer by Caris LeVert (Michigan), who had 15 points. Caldwell-Pope answered with a 3-pointer and sparked a quick 7-0 run — with back-to-back jumpers by Morris to tie it at 94 with 58.9 seconds left.
LeVert was fouled on a drive to the basket eight seconds later and made both free throws, for a two-point advantage. The Nets had a chance to put it away, but Smith got a block and the Pistons got a last possession with the clock running down.
The Pistons had a 15-4 run near the end of the first quarter, with a three-point play and dunk by Harris, plus two straight jumpers by Harris. Caldwell-Pope finished the period with a pair of free throws, for a 31-22 lead.
They kept the Nets without a field goal for the final 3:37 and turned a 15-12 deficit into a nine-point advantage.
“That’s the thing, when we keep saying, ‘Consistency, consistency.’” Harris said. “That’s where it comes into play, where we have to keep playing the same way, over the course of the game.
“It can’t get to the point where you don’t want to do it if it’s working. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it — keep it going.”