Detroit — It’s becoming something of a pattern for the Pistons — fall into a double-digit deficit in the first half and make a furious comeback in the fourth quarter.
It happened on both games of last weekend’s road trip, after wiping out a 15-point margin in the loss at Washington and overcoming a 21-point deficit in a win over the Knicks.
Make it three times in three games. And make it another loss.
The Pistons had a little déjà vu, erasing a 21-point deficit against the Philadelphia 76ers, but fell short in the final minutes as the Sixers recorded their first win of the season, 97-86, on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Reggie Jackson had 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds, Andre Drummond finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Avery Bradley scored 15 for the Pistons (2-2), who played their third game in the last four nights.
The Sixers (1-3) got solid games from two of their young stars, as Joel Embiid posted 30 points and nine rebounds and rookie Ben Simmons added a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
From the start, the Pistons had trouble handling the versatility of the 7-foot Embiid and the 6-10 Simmons.
“Embiid shot the ball really well — he did turn it over seven times, so there were times we bothered him,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “On our rotations, we were really slow coming to him on rolls. On Simmons, I’m going to take the blame on that one: I didn’t find an answer at all with him.
“I’m not trying to protect anybody. There’s things guys could have done better, but game-plan wise, I did a really poor job in terms of Simmons. It’s frustrating. I didn’t do a very good job offensively; I couldn’t find anything to get us going. Not a good job from my standpoint either.”
The Pistons trailed, 75-67, to start the fourth quarter but opened with four straight points to trim the lead to four before rookie Markelle Fultz scored on a drive to push the lead back to six.
Anthony Tolliver, Saturday night’s hero, hit a 3-pointer to get within three points, but J.J. Redick scored on a back-door play to respond. The Pistons never got any closer the rest of the way.
The margin bulged to nine after a three-point play by Robert Covington (13 points) and a 3-pointer by T.J. McConnell, to make it 87-78 at the 6:01 mark. Covington hit another 3-pointer to push it to 87-80, but Jackson had three straight baskets to pull the Pistons within four with 3:12 left.
The Sixers answered back, with two free throws each by Simmons and Embiid and a three-point play by Embiid with 1:14 left that put it away.
In the first quarter, the Sixers got off to a hot start, with a 7-0 run, including two baskets by Embiid and a 3-pointer by Covington. The Pistons answered, with seven straight points, including a split in free throws by Drummond, who had his first miss from the line this season after making his first six attempts.
The Sixers followed with another 8-0 spurt, with three baskets by Simmons and a pair of free throws from Embiid. That tandem kept the Sixers in the game and the Pistons didn’t have answers for them on the defensive end.
“They’re good all around. They played really good basketball tonight and were able to make shots,” said Tobias Harris, who had 11 points. “They play fast and you have to give them credit. They came out and showed what they’re about.”
In the second quarter, the Sixers pushed the lead to 15 following a 10-2 run, with seven points from Dario Saric and three from Redick. They continued the surge and went up, 51-30, on a jumper by Embiid and back-to-back 3-pointers from Jerryd Bayless at the 4:06 mark.
“That’s two games in a row, we just really weren’t ready or didn’t play as hard as we were capable of at the start of the game,” Van Gundy said. “We have to figure that out, whether it’s those five guys changing their mindset or whether we have to change the lineup to get some guys in there who can be ready to go at the beginning of the game.
“That was disappointing, the start of the game. The whole thing was disappointing, but the start was disappointing in terms of the effort.”
Just like they did against the Knicks, the Pistons chipped away, cutting it to a 56-43 margin at halftime and 75-67 entering the fourth quarter.