Detroit News' Rod Beard breaks down Pistons' third straight defeat, a 96-93 setback to the Spurs in San Antonio.
San Antonio — In his 10 seasons, Pistons forward Anthony Tolliver has seen this movie several times before.
The veteran San Antonio Spurs have a way of making teams pay when they don’t execute almost perfectly on the fundamentals.
It’s a well-known rerun around the league — and the Pistons were the co-stars again. The Pistons mounted a furious comeback but fell short in the final seconds, in a 96-93 loss to the Spurs on Monday night at AT&T Center.
It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (14-9), who finish their four-game road trip on Wednesday night at Milwaukee.
Reggie Jackson had a season-best 27 points, Tobias Harris added 15 points and five rebounds and Andre Drummond 11 points and 15 rebounds.
“I told a guy if you make mistakes, they’re going to take advantage of it,” said Tolliver, who started in place of Stanley Johnson. “We did a really good job throughout the game of playing well and playing mistake-free basketball, but we made a few errors down the stretch and they took advantage of it.”
The mistakes were costly: loose balls, second-chance opportunities and bad close-outs on 3-point shots. The Spurs (16-8) cashed in, hitting 45 percent (14-of-31) from beyond the arc, erasing the deficits every time the Pistons started to pull away.
Coach Stan Van Gundy was happy with the defense but had to pick their poison: either inside the paint or beyond the 3-point arc.
“Other than the threes we gave up, but the threes were huge,” Van Gundy. “If you give up 14 threes, you’re going to have a hard time.”
The Pistons trailed, 94-93, on the Spurs’ last possession and as the shot clock within a second of expiring, Harris fouled LaMarcus Aldridge (17 points and 10 rebounds), who made both free throws, with 5.2 seconds left.
On the final possession, Harris got the inbounds pass and put up a highly contested 3-pointer, which was off the mark.
Van Gundy said that wasn’t the final shot he was looking to get, but didn’t elaborate.
“I’m not going to get into it,” Van Gundy said. “There were things we had on the last play.”
With 6:40 remaining, the Pistons had an 86-82 lead, after a drive and score by Jackson. The Spurs countered with eight straight points, with a 3-pointer from Patty Mills (11 points), a three-point play by Rudy Gay (12 points and 10 rebounds) and a reverse lay-in by Manu Ginobili (11 points).
Jackson ended the flurry with a floater in the lane to cut the lead to two, but Aldridge had back-to-back lay-ins at the basket, for the Spurs’ largest lead, 94-88, at the 1:51 mark.
The Spurs had seven players in double figures and were without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard.
The Pistons had another rally: Jackson split a pair of free throws and Johnson (14 points and 10 rebounds) added to more free throws with 57.3 seconds left. On their next possession, Drummond got a tipped putback with 28 seconds remaining to get the lead down to 94-93.
On Harris’ foul, the officials reviewed the play and determined the foul occurred before the shot clock expired and awarded the foul shots.
The Pistons led by as many as nine points in the third quarter, but each time, the Spurs managed a rally.
Here are some observations from the matchup:
■ Tolliver started at forward in place of Stanley Johnson. It appeared to be a counter to the Spurs’ size in the frontcourt, with 7-footers Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Tolliver guarded Aldridge — who averages 23 points — and proved mostly effective, allowing only 9 points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first half.
■ Johnson came off the bench for the first time in the 20 games he’s played this season; he missed three games because of injuries. In a reserve role, Johnson also was effective, with nine points and four rebounds in the first half and finishing with his first double-double of the season — and first since February 6, 2016.
■ Avery Bradley had a less-than-stellar shooting night, going 0-of-7, including 0-of-3 on 3-pointers, through the first three quarters. He made his first basket with 7:56 left in the game, helping the Pistons regain the lead, 81-79.
“I’m just not making any shots,” Bradley said. “I don’t know the last time I had three points in a game and went 1-for-9.”