Memphis, Tenn. — It could have been worse. The Pistons could have lost to the worst team in the NBA.
It wasn’t quite that bad — they lost to the second-worst team in the league.
The Pistons’ offense was clicking, setting a new franchise record for made 3-pointers, but the defense was almost nonexistent, giving up at least 30 points in each quarter, en route to one of their most head-scratching defeats of the season.
The Memphis Grizzlies were vying for the worst record in the league — and with it, the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery — but found themselves with a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter.
They held on in the final minutes and took a 130-117 victory over the Pistons on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Forum.
The Pistons (38-42) connected on a franchise-record 23 3-pointers and shot 49 percent from beyond the arc for the game, but only hit 15-of-46 (33 percent) from inside the arc.
And the defense was atrocious.
“Our defense was horrendous. They’re the next-to-worst offensive team in the league and they scored over 30 in every quarter,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “There’s nothing to be happy about there. Our effort was bad; our concentration was bad. We were terrible defensively.”
Anthony Tolliver had 19 points, Luke Kennard 18 and Henry Ellenson had a career-best 17 points for the Pistons, who had won eight of their last 10 but guaranteed they’ll finish below .500 for the third time in Van Gundy’s tenure.
They finish the regular season this week, in the home finale Monday against the Toronto Raptors and Wednesday at the Chicago Bulls.
The defense will have to get better if the Pistons hope to get to 40 wins.
“We’ll see,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t have a lot of guys interesting in playing at that end tonight.”
The Grizzlies (22-58) built a 20-point lead midway through the second quarter, behind a 17-5 spurt.
MarShon Brooks (25 points) scored five during the run but the Pistons chipped away, getting within six at halftime. Ish Smith (11 points and 11 rebounds) keyed a 15-2 run, with six points by Tolliver and back-to-back dunks by Kennard but the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol (20 points, nine rebounds and nine assists) ended the run with a three-point play.
Smith hit a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left to get within 62-56 at halftime and the Pistons threatened, pulling within 68-67 after Reggie Jackson (13 points) was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws, then made two more free throws on the next trip.
The Pistons never gained the lead, though. The Grizzlies got another 10-0 run, with a 3-pointer by Kobi Simmons (20 points and seven assists) and two baskets from Gasol. Tolliver answered with a 3-pointer and Stanley Johnson a jumper, but the Pistons never got over the hump.
“We played a little bit harder on defense (in the third quarter) and we hit some shots,” Tolliver said. “Obviously, we hit a lot of threes but for some reason, we just couldn’t get a long stretch of good play and it cost us the game.”
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons pulled within 99-92 at the 10:33 mark after a four-point play from Henry Ellenson, who had a career-high 17 points. The Grizzlies answered with a 3-pointer from Gasol and a lay-in by Deyonta Davis (13 points) to push the lead back to 12.
Dillon Brooks had 13 of his 22 points in the first half and the Grizzlies kept hitting shots, going 12-of-20 (60 percent) from the field in the fourth quarter.