It was good while it lasted in the first half and into the third quarter. The Pistons were leading the Houston Rockets, who have the NBA’s best record but couldn’t pull away. The magic number seemed to be double digits, trying to get that margin above eight, just to send a subtle message.
That never happened.
The Rockets erased that deficit and pulled away in overtime behind James Harden, taking a 100-96 victory over the Pistons on Thursday night at Toyota Center in Houston. The loss finished the Pistons’ six-game, 12-day road trip at 2-4.
A win would have given the Pistons (32-40) a season sweep over the Rockets and some momentum heading home. Instead, the Pistons saw their two-game win streak end — and with 10 games remaining, their already-slim playoff chances took another critical blow.
Blake Griffin had a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — the first for a Piston since Reggie Jackson on March 27, 2015 at Orlando. Andre Drummond added 17 points and 20 rebounds and Ish Smith 18 points.
Harden had 10 of his 21 points in overtime, including three crucial free throws to push the lead to 96-90 with 1:11 left. The Pistons made a couple baskets in the final minute, but the lead didn’t get closer than four.
Here are some other observations from the matchup with the Rockets:
■ The Rockets were without All-Star guard Chris Paul, who missed the game because of a sore hamstring. Eric Gordon, the sixth man of the year, performed well in his spot, with 22 points, including three 3-pointers. While Harden’s shot was off (4-of-20 overall and 0-of-8 on 3-pointers), the Rockets (58-14) were able to stabilize things in the overtime period.
■ Kennard had a good all-around game and played together with Reggie Bullock in a shooting-heavy lineup down the stretch. He was 6-of-11 from the field and didn’t have a 3-pointer (0-of-5) but found ways to get to the basket and added four rebounds and two assists. He played 33 minutes and was in during crunch time, a vote of confidence from coach Stan Van Gundy.
■ The Pistons shot 58 percent from the field in the first half but had just one 3-pointer. They finished with just six 3-pointers in the game (on 38 tries) and seemed to suffer from poor shot selection down the stretch. Bullock and Smith each made a pair of 3-pointers but they didn’t seem to have a rhythm from beyond the arc.
■ Reggie Jackson got clearance to play a few more minutes than the 15 he played against the Suns on Tuesday. He played 20 on Thursday but struggled with his shooting, going 2-of-13 and finishing with four points. He didn’t have a burst off the dribble and his jump shot wasn’t as effective as normal. He forced some of the shots and missed all six 3-point attempts.
■ Griffin was called for a flagrant foul after Harden went up for a 3-pointer and landed on Griffin’s foot. After a review, officials called a flagrant-1 and Harden made two free throws, plus got a 3-pointer by Trevor Ariza on the ensuing possession. It’s a tough call, as there didn’t seem to be any ill intent, but the video review convinced the officials of the call.