Loss drops Pistons four games back of eighth-place Heat
Miami — Late in the second quarter, the Pistons’ fledgling season seemed to be on life support. They were outscored, 32-18, in the period and faced their largest deficit of the game, an 18-point bulge, with a minute left before halftime.
Against the Miami Heat, the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Pistons needed this win as much as they’ve needed any victory this season.
The need didn’t dictate the result.
The Pistons pulled within two late in the third quarter, but couldn’t stay close enough. They gave up four straight points and the Heat never let the Pistons get the lead in the second half.
The result could be the death knell for the Pistons’ season: a 105-96 loss to the Heat on Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.
The loss is the second straight and eighth in the last 10 games for the Pistons (29-34), who fell four games behind the Heat for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with just 19 games remaining.
“I thought our guys fought really hard. That third quarter, they came back and fought,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We played Blake into exhaustion in the third and we sat him down; we just struggled playing without him.
“He was dominant and every time he was out, we struggled. Their defense was really good. We handled the ball very poorly. Turnovers were a big part of it.”
Griffin played 36 minutes but had his best game since the trade to the Pistons, with 31 points, four rebounds and six assists and Andre Drummond added 22 points and 18 rebounds. Reggie Bullock was the only other Piston in double figures, with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Pistons needed more.
More defense. More scoring. More fight.
And fewer turnovers.
The Heat (33-30) took advantage of 18 giveaways for 15 points and made 41 percent (12-of-29) on 3-pointers.
“I didn’t think the 3s were a huge part of it today,” Van Gundy said. “Bigger problems were turnovers, offensive rebounds and our inability to shoot the ball.
“Our six perimeter guys who played were 16-of-48 (on field goals) and 4-for-17 from 3. That’s just not going to get it done.”
Just before halftime, the Heat (33-30) had a 59-41 advantage, following a jumper and two free throws by Goran Dragic (13 points) and a 3-pointer by Kelly Olynyk (17 points). Justise Winslow had a flagrant foul on Griffin, who made both free throws and James Ennis III followed with a 3-pointer, to trim the lead to 13 at halftime.
The Pistons answered in the third quarter, with a 15-7 burst in the first five minutes, with seven points by Griffin. The Heat led, 66-61, before back-to-back 3-pointers by Luke Babbitt and James Johnson (14 points).
The Pistons finished the quarter on a 9-2 run, including a 3-pointer and lay-in by Stanley Johnson to get within two. Josh Richardson (17 points) closed it with a drive and the Heat lead was 74-70 going into the fourth quarter.
“Tonight was a struggle. We gave up too many points defensively — and kind of fell asleep sometimes,” Griffin said. “When you are having games like (we had), you expect to win.”
From there, the Pistons got disjointed and after an opening 8-5 flurry, the lead got to seven and never got below five after that.
The Heat, who have won three of four, have a solid four-game lead over the Pistons, who are just one game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for 10th place.
“After losing the last game, we knew we had to come in and learn from our mistakes. Our focus was on this game,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 11 points and six rebounds. “We knew it was an important game for us to win. We took care of business tonight.”