Reeling Pistons turn into Hornets' road kill
Charlotte, N.C. — The short road trip started the way the home stand ended.
Badly. Really badly.
In the midst of their chase for the final playoff spot in the East, the Pistons put up another lackluster effort from both their starting and reserve units, falling into a 13-point deficit after the first quarter and struggling to dig out of it.
It was a recurring theme before the All-Star break and seems to have gotten worse in the two games since the break, continuing the Pistons’ downward trend.
This time, it was a 114-98 drubbing to the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday afternoon at Spectrum Center. The Pistons are reeling, with their fifth loss in the last six games — on the heels of a five-game win streak that cultivated optimism.
The loss dropped the Pistons (28-31) two games behind the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot, and just 1½ games ahead of the Hornets for ninth place.
Coach Stan Van Gundy bristled at the idea that it’s just on the reserves, who were outscored, by a large margin, 51-28; against the Boston Celtics on Friday, it was a 65-21 gap.
“It’s not just the bench; it’s not a matter of (sending a) message. They’re not playing well. Tonight, (the Hornets) played with a lot more energy and a lot more intensity than we did,” Van Gundy said. “That was the game. And that’s not just our bench or anything else. That’s to a man down the line.
“So, let’s not lay it on four or five guys — that was a team-wide thing tonight.”
Blake Griffin had 20 points, on 10-of-18 shooting; Andre Drummond added 14 points and 14 rebounds; and Reggie Bullock 14 points and five assists.
The Hornets (27-33) streaked ahead in the first quarter after an initial Pistons burst, with a 4-of-5 from the field. Charlotte had an 11-2 spurt, with six points from Dwight Howard (17 points and 12 rebounds) and pulled ahead, 13-8.
A bit later, the Hornets went on a 19-8 run to finish the period, with four points each from Michael Carter-Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Howard.
Drummond scored a drive and was fouled with 7.8 seconds left, but Cody Zeller (13 points) had a tip-in at the buzzer to give the Hornets a 32-19 lead. Charlotte started the second period with a 14-2 run, with a 3-pointer and a three-point play by Frank Kaminsky (13 points).
The bench, which has had trouble maintaining leads and staying close during their stints, floundered again early in the second period.
“There was no effort when we came out of that first quarter. The second quarter again decided the game,” Drummond said. “Honestly, this needs to stop. We can't keep going games where we're down by 15, 20 before halftime and then try to make a fight to come back.”
In the third quarter, the Pistons threatened with a 3 by Bullock, a drive by Stanley Johnson and a jumper by Bullock. Drummond added a hook to trim the lead to 82-66 at the 3:46 mark. Smith was fouled but missed both free throws, the closest they got the rest of the way.
With the game out of hand, the Pistons’ reserves played well in the fourth, with a 27-18 margin, including 12 from Dwight Buycks, who played for the fourth time in the last 10 games.
Van Gundy had gotten into a rhythm in his rotation of having Griffin play the first six minutes of the first quarter and then subbing out, to return and play with the second unit early in the second quarter. He went away from that, playing Griffin and Drummond together for 10 minutes before going to the bench unit.
Van Gundy also tinkered with the playing rotation in the second half. After playing Jameer Nelson at backup point guard, he moved to Buycks late in the third quarter. Van Gundy also used Langston Galloway at backup shooting guard over Luke Kennard.
He indicated Saturday that he might mix up the backcourt minutes.
Late in the game, Van Gundy emptied the bench, playing Kennard, Henry Ellenson and Buycks. Buycks had 12 points in 13 minutes and Ellenson seven in seven minutes.