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The Pistons lost their fourth straight game and fell to 39-41, with just two games remaining in the regular season. Rod Beard, The Detroit News

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Detroit — Everything lined up for the Pistons. They got the help they needed, but they didn’t play well enough to help themselves.

And at least for now, the Pistons are not yet a playoff team, missing a chance to clinch a spot on Sunday night. After the Miami Heat lost earlier Sunday, the Pistons could have moved closer to getting their spot in the postseason.

With a win Sunday and a victory by the Brooklyn Nets over the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons could have clinched their first playoff spot since 2016 and just their second in the past decade.  

BOX SCORE: Hornets 104, Pistons 91

The Heat lost. The Nets won. The Pistons didn’t.

The Pistons fell into a 23-point hole and as they’ve done several times this season, they found a way to climb out.

Almost.

They had a furious fourth-quarter rally, pulling within one point, but fell short in a 104-91 loss on Sunday evening at Little Caesars Arena.

It’s the fourth straight loss for the Pistons (39-41), who still can clinch a playoff spot with a victory in their last two games: Tuesday at home against the Memphis Grizzlies or Wednesday against the league-worst New York Knicks. 

"It got away in the first half. Our approach in the second quarter and our disposition in the second quarter wasn't there," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. "I loved the way we played in the second half to get to that point, but you can't put it all on one stretch there ...

"We took some tough shots and we talked about that and what we should do with that."

With the 2004 championship team in the building for a 15-year tribute, the fans were primed for an added celebration, but the Pistons didn’t play well enough in the second quarter to pull out a victory.  

Ish Smith led the bench effort with 20 points, Andre Drummond added 15 points and 23 rebounds and Blake Griffin 14 points.

Griffin said the effort wasn’t there to gut it out and go and take a playoff spot.

“By the product we put on the floor tonight, I would say no. We didn’t play for 48 minutes like we understood the implications of what this season is coming down to,” he said. “That’s not to say we can’t change that and be better in these next two games, but tonight we didn’t have it.”

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Wallace joined his Pistons teammates for the celebration at Little Caesars Arena for their "Goin' to Work" group. Rod Beard, The Detroit News

The Pistons trailed by 23 in the second quarter but a 3-pointer by Wayne Ellington and two free throws by Griffin cut the lead to 18 at halftime.

Smith scored the last two baskets of the third quarter, part of a 6-0 run that extended to the fourth, with a 3-pointer and jumper by Luke Kennard, with a drive by Langston Galloway that cut the margin to 83-82 at the 8:22 mark.

But Frank Kaminsky ended the streak with a basket. Thon Maker followed with a dunk off a nice pass from Drummond but the Pistons couldn’t get over the hump and grab the lead. Kaminsky (24 points) added a 3-pointer and the Hornets were able to pull away, with a 14-4 run.

A Pistons victory would have eliminated the Hornets (38-42), but they can still get in the playoffs if they win out in their last two games.

Kemba Walker had 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Hornets. 

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Observations

1. With the 2004 championship team in attendance, the crowd was in a frenzy during timeouts, as that group was feted with video tributes. Among them were Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and coach Larry Brown, as well as reserves Mehmet Okur, Mike James, Elden Campbell and Darvin Ham. Rasheed Wallace was a notable absence.

2. The Pistons needed an offensive lift off the bench, with Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard struggling to find their range. The boost came from Ish Smith, who had six points in the first and seven in the third quarter to help when the second unit wasn’t generating a lot of scoring. His mid-range jumper was going and he hit a corner 3-pointer to help spark an 11-4 run to end the period.

3. When the Pistons rode the wave of momentum and pulled within two midway through the fourth quarter, they took some ill-advised shots — drives by Thon Maker and Drummond and a 3-pointer by Maker — that could have shifted the momentum. Kaminsky’s 3-pointer at the 5:55 mark ended the 15-2 run and helped hold the lead for the Hornets.

4. Griffin’s knee injury didn’t seem to cause any issues in Friday’s game at Oklahoma City but he went to the locker room during the first quarter. He was wearing a heavy brace on his left leg, covered by a leg sleeve but he didn’t look to have the full lift when jumping. With a wide-open lane in the third quarter, he just laid the ball in, rather than going for a dunk.

5. Griffin got his 15th technical foul of the season late in the fourth quarter when he was going back and forth with Jeremy Lamb. Griffin had appeared to calm down and Lamb was still talking, but the officials assessed the double-technicals to both players. Griffin is at the limit; if he gets a technical in Tuesday’s game, he will miss the finale against the Knicks.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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