Rod Beard breaks down Pistons loss to 76ers, disappointing season. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — It’s not over until it’s over.
And now it’s over.
The Pistons’ already-thin playoff hopes were down to a magic number of one — meaning one Pistons loss or one win by the Milwaukee Bucks — with five games to go in the regular season.
Stop the countdown; it’s over.
The Pistons got down by double digits in the second quarter and had to fight upstream the rest of the way. They got the margin down to 11 in the fourth quarter but didn’t get any closer until the final minutes, as they fell to the Philadelphia 76ers, 115-108, on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
With the Pistons loss the Bucks clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Pistons (37-41), who had won seven of their previous eight games, will miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
Also, their first-round draft pick, which will be in the top 14 picks, will be relayed to the Los Angeles Clippers — as part of the Blake Griffin trade — unless they move up into the top three spots through the draft lottery.
Even without injured All-Star big man Joel Embiid, the 76ers (48-30) won their 12th straight game and moved into a third-place tie with the Cleveland Cavaliers for third place in the East.
The Pistons didn’t have an answer defensively for the 76ers’ 3-point shooters, with big games from J.J. Redick (25 points and six assists), who hit five 3-pointers, and Marco Belinelli, who had 19 points and hit four 3-pointers, helping to quell the Pistons’ fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
“They’ve got two of the best guys in the entire league moving without the ball in Redick and Belinelli and they tore us up tonight,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They were 16-for-25 (combined from the field) and 9-for-14 from 3 and they just kept getting space. We just couldn’t keep up with them.
“Those two guys put on a clinic tonight and they’re outstanding moving without the ball. That was the problem, those two guys are the guys we couldn’t guard; we had a real struggle.”
Reggie Jackson talks after the Pistons loss to the 76ers. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Ben Simmons added 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Anthony Tolliver led the Pistons, tying his season high with 25 points, Stanley Johnson added 19 and Ish Smith had 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, helping to fuel the comeback.
The Pistons trailed, 88-71, heading to the fourth quarter and Luke Kennard (12 points) scored on a scoop and Henry Ellenson followed with a dunk to make it 88-75 at the 10:22 mark.
Redick answered with a jumper and Amir Johnson started a 7-2 spurt, with a 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova (13 points and 11 rebounds) to push the lead back to 18.
Smith took over from there, scoring the Pistons’ next nine points, with two jumpers, a 3-pointer and a highlight-reel spin in the lane and lay-in to cut the lead to 95-84, with 7:12 left.
Redick had another response, with a lay-in, followed by a 3-pointer from Belinelli. Reggie Bullock hit a 3-pointer for the Pistons but Richaun Holmes (11 points) followed with a floater.
Tolliver kept the Pistons in it with a 3-pointer — part of his eight straight Pistons points — but Redick had another 3-pointer amid the spurt and the margin was down to 10.
The Pistons, though, didn’t get the defensive stops when they needed them, as Belinelli hit another 3-pointer to ease the threat.
In the final minute, the Pistons got the deficit down to seven, but they couldn’t didn’t threaten the rest of the way.
Despite the elimination from playoff contention, there’s still some value in the remaining games.
“There’s still four games to go and we’ll claw and scratch to get to that .500 and it’s something play for,” Tolliver said.
Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ loss:
■Reggie Jackson had an odd start, going 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the first four minutes. He had a little more trouble from the field, missing his first seven shots, before scoring on a floater at the 7:18 mark of the second quarter. He finished 1-of-11 on field goals, with eight points and seven assists.
■Tolliver has found a groove in the starting role with Griffin out for the last four games, tying his season high with 25 points. His fourth-quarter surge almost kept the Pistons in it, but defense was the bugaboo yet again, as they couldn’t get stops on the defensive end to solidify their made shots.
■Johnson had another solid outing, going 7-of-14 from the field and using his athleticism and size to get inside and bully his way to some easier shots. His 19 points tied his second-highest production of the season, with wins over the Bucks and Nets. His season high is 26 against the Cavaliers.