Pistons offense dries up down the stretch in loss to Trail Blazers

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin, left, shoots as Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic defends during the first half Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Portland, Ore. The Trail Blazers defeated the Pistons, 117-112.

Portland — Call it the one that got away.

The Pistons looked like they would be able to steal a critical game in Portland and start their western trip with a second win. They had a six-point lead with 4:28 left — and then it all slipped away.

The Pistons scored just three the rest of the way and the Trail Blazers steamed ahead behind Damian Lillard to take a 117-112 victory on Saturday night at Moda Center.

The loss drops the Pistons (37-35) into a virtual tie for sixth place with the Brooklyn Nets in the East playoff race. Detroit leads by percentage points, having played two fewer games than the Nets, and the lead over the eighth-place Miami Heat was trimmed to just 1 1/2 games.

BOX SCORE: Trail Blazers 117, Pistons 112

The Pistons finish their trip against the best two teams in the Western Conference: Sunday at Golden State and Tuesday at Denver.

Blake Griffin had 27 points and six assists, Reggie Jackson 24 points and Andre Drummond 19 points and 11 rebounds but the Pistons’ offensive dormancy in the final minutes proved to be their undoing.

The Trail Blazers (45-27) rallied behind Lillard’s 28 points, six rebounds and nine assists and a season-best 22 points from Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu hit a 3-pointer and added two free throws with 5:46 left to tie it at 103. Griffin answered with a 3-pointer and Drummond had a three-point play for a 109-103 lead, their largest margin of the game.

Aminu responded with a drive and Lillard assisted on back-to-back baskets by Maurice Harkless (10 points) and Jusuf Nurkic (15 points) to tie it. The Pistons couldn’t get their offense clicking and the Blazers kept the pressure on.

“We got tentative and their defense picked up and we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be, either,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “In those situations, you have to be aggressive and decisive.”

Lillard gave the Blazers the lead with a 3-pointer and was fouled, completing the four-point play and giving Portland the lead for good, with 1:37 remaining. Nurkic followed with a dunk and Langston Galloway hit a 3-pointer to pull the Pistons within 115-112, but they couldn’t get any closer.

“We got stagnant; we didn’t go back to our sets that were working for us earlier. We just passed the ball around and looked at each other — myself included,” Griffin said. “Obviously, you can’t play like that down the stretch against a team like that.”

The Pistons had a chance on their final possession, when Galloway got a partial block on a drive by Lillard, but Aminu got the loose ball and put it back for the final basket of the game.

“We made the plays we needed to make. I think defensively, we got behind each other a little more, we helped each other a little bit,” Lillard said. “We were more physical and our presence defensively down the stretch in the biggest moment of the game was when it was best.”


1. Jackson returned to the location of his career-high 40-point game in November 2015. He had another good outing, with 10 points in the first quarter and 12 in the third quarter. Jackson has said in the past that he likes playing in Portland, but the stat line gives more proof: 9-of-15 field goals, 4-of-8 on 3-pointers and 24 points. He had the complete game, with the drives, 3-pointers and jumpers all falling but didn’t score in the fourth quarter, on only two shot attempts.

2. Even without C.J. McCollum, who has a knee injury, the Blazers were effective in their backcourt, with Lillard and Curry combining to make their first eight shots and giving the Pistons fits on the perimeter. The Pistons have struggled to defend guards in recent weeks and the Blazers made plays. The Pistons could see back-to-back Curry outings, playing against Steph and the Warriors on Sunday.

3. The Pistons were outrebounded, 42-29, which almost never happens. Besides Drummond’s 11 boards, no other Pistons player had more than three. The Blazers had five players with at least five rebounds and were aggressive on the offensive glass, getting 14 second-chance points.

4. Casey managed the reserve group well, finding the right combinations with Luke Kennard (13 points and five assists) and Langston Galloway (nine points). The reserve group contributed 37 points and Casey stayed with them down the stretch, instead of starters Bruce Brown and Wayne Ellington.

5. Luke Kennard had been struggling with his offense, with defenses pressuring him more and taking the ball out of his hands. He seems to have found his level, with double-digit scoring in each of the last two games. He said he’s studied video of how Jackson handles double-teams and emulates some of those skills in his own game.

Pistons at Warriors

Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (37-35) lost at Portland on Saturday night and will try to bounce back against the Warriors, who suffered a blowout loss against Dallas on Saturday.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard