The Pistons have four games left and our only one game out of missing the playoffs. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — This fight for the last three playoff spots in the East has all the markings of a race that’s going to go down to the wire.
And it could be a photo finish, if the past few days are any indication.
Playing their third straight game without Blake Griffin — who sat again because of left knee soreness — the Pistons struggled for the second straight game against the Indiana Pacers, falling behind by double digits early in the fourth quarter and fading in the final minutes.
The result was a 108-89 loss on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena and some hand-wringing and scoreboard watching.
The Pistons fell back to .500 but stayed in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, after the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat and wins by the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets. It creates a logjam, with the Pistons in sixth, a half-game ahead of the Nets and Magic and a game ahead of the ninth-place Heat.
The Pistons (39-39) have four games remaining: Friday at the Thunder, Sunday vs. the Hornets, Tuesday vs. the Grizzlies and Wednesday at the Knicks. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is three.
Andre Drummond had 28 points, 19 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, Wayne Ellington added 24 points and Reggie Jackson 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Without Griffin, the deficiencies showed, and the offense wasn’t able to click early.
The Pacers won, 118-89, ending the Pistons' 11-game home winning streak. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
“We have to be whole to be a playoff team — everybody has to be healthy,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Blake does so many things for us; he’s a quasi-point guard, he takes the pressure off our point guards, where they don’t have to handle it as much.
“Teams can’t lock in and blitz your point guard as much, if he is one of your pick-and-roll guys or primary ball-handlers. We got away with it in the Portland game and we did it in spurts tonight.”
The Pacers (47-32) dominated inside again, with 62 points in the paint and caused 20 turnovers. The Pistons’ struggles continued, with another anemic offensive performance in the first quarter, notching just 15 points, but only trailing by three.
“There’s nobody really to key in on, and that’s the biggest thing with their team. They’re one of those teams around the league, since (Victor Oladipo) went down, you never really know where the ball is going,” Jackson said.
The Pacers opened the second on a 12-2 run, opening with a 3-pointer by Doug McDermott (14 points) and finishing with a lay-in by McDermott. Luke Kennard got going for the Pistons and hit eight straight points, with two 3-pointers to get within 30-25 but the Pacers had another 9-2 spurt to take command again.
Drummond scored the Pistons’ last eight points of the period and the Pistons trailed, 44-36, at halftime. The Pistons again went through shooting droughts and with the bench only contributing 19 points, there wasn’t much balance between the starting group and the reserves.
With Thon Maker in the starting lineup, it looks to be impacting the Pistons’ bench chemistry and that’s an area Casey will have to examine in his rotation. Griffin is the big piece missing, though.
“He’s another weapon for us — a big one,” guard Luke Kennard said. “It’s a huge factor having him on the floor. He brings so much attention and it just opens it up for everybody else and makes everybody better.”
The Pistons pulled within 69-62 with 2:29 left in the third, after Jackson’s step-back 3-pointer — with a highlight-reel ending in a duel with Myles Turner — but the Pacers finished with another 9-0 run, with a lay-in and 3-pointer by McDermott.
Ellington got the Pistons going in the fourth quarter, with 14 points, including three 3-pointers. He pulled the Pistons within 88-80 at the 6:56 mark but Bojan Bogdanovic (17 points) answered with a dunk and Domantas Sabonis a three-point play that helped stretch the lead to 95-80.