Terrible first quarter sinks Pistons vs. Nuggets as playoff position weakens
Denver — It wasn’t a tale of two halves or even two quarters. It might even be generous to call it a tale of one quarter.
Instead, it was more of a struggle for one quarter, as the Pistons played their worst opening period of the season — missing their first 10 field-goal attempts and mustering just nine points in the period — and falling into a double-digit deficit in the first four minutes.
It didn’t end that way, though.
The Nuggets pushed the lead to 18 by the end of the first quarter and led by as many as 27 but had to hold on in the final seconds to take a 95-92 victory over the Pistons on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.
It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (37-37) who finished their western road trip at 1-3 and dropped to seventh place in the East, just a half-game ahead of the Orlando Magic, who moved into eighth with a win over the Miami Heat.
With eight games remaining, the Pistons are on the precipice of missing the playoffs, after being in sixth place and holding a lead of 1.5 games over the Nets last week. The Pistons face the Magic in an important matchup that will impact positioning and tiebreakers on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena.
“We talk about wanting to be a playoff team and it makes me even more mad and upset that we played the way we should play in the second half,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We executed well in the second half — but way too late. Against good teams out here in the west, you can’t ease your way in and play every third possession — and that’s what we did tonight.”
Blake Griffin had 29 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, Reggie Jackson had 17 points and five assists and Andre Drummond had 13 points and 18 rebounds for the Pistons, who had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but Griffin’s good look at a corner 3-pointer was off the mark.
The Pistons had a 19-8 run over the final 5:20 but couldn’t get a tying shot to go.
“I was proud of the way we fought back. I felt awful because I got a good look and let us down to take us to overtime,” Griffin said. “I’m not happy with the outcome or how we played the first quarter, but I liked our fight and if we play like that the rest of the season, we’ll be all right.”
The Nuggets (50-23) led, 87-73 with 5:54 remaining but Wayne Ellington (12 points) hit a 3-pointer and Drummond followed with a dunk, starting the run. After a dunk by Nikola Jokic (23 points and 15 rebounds), Jackson hit a jumper, Drummond a lay-in and Jackson a basket to get the Pistons within five at the 2:01 mark.
Ellington added a 3-pointer to trim it to two but Jamal Murray (33 points) hit a floater. Drummond responded with a dunk and Murray hit a tough, one-legged baseline jumper and got the lead back to four.
Jackson kept it close with a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left but the Pistons had to foul and Murray made both free throws for the three-point margin, ahead of Griffin’s wayward final attempt.
“We can’t start — I can’t start the game like I did, missing eight shots right at the rim, tip-in after tip-in,” Griffin said. “We have to come out with a little more fire, especially on the road.”