'We knew what was at stake': Pistons save playoff hopes with furious 4th-quarter comeback
Detroit — Sighs. Groans. Yells.
Then it turned to boos.
That’s not how anyone thought the Pistons’ final regular-season home game would go.
After all, the Memphis Grizzlies were missing half their regular playing rotation — and the other half of their roster, including a pair of two-way players — played gritty and inspired basketball.
That undermanned, undervalued and underestimated group of Grizzlies played as if they were the ones with the playoff spot on the line, not the Pistons, who had a chance to clinch with wins in their final two games.
Instead, the Pistons found themselves in a 22-point deficit in the second quarter and had to rally from 15 down in the final period to grab a season-saving 100-93 victory over the Grizzlies on Tuesday night before a crowd at Little Caesars Arena that was able to cheer in the final minute.
“I heard the booing and I understand it. We deserved it, the way we played in the first half. We deserved it, I deserved it and everybody deserved it,” coach Dwane Casey said. “They have the right to do that. Don’t hurt your ankles getting back up on the bandwagon. I saw people coming back in the arena, too. That works both ways.
“Hopefully, they saw the scrap to get back into it and that’s why they were coming back in and (getting) in their seats.”
It was the Pistons’ biggest comeback of the season and was the 19-point halftime deficit was the largest they overcame since 1988-89. It ended the four-game losing streak for the Pistons (40-41), who can clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a victory over the Knicks, who have the worst record in the NBA, on Wednesday night.
The Pistons also could grab the seventh seed by winning, along with a Nets victory over the Heat and a loss by the Magic. A Pistons loss and Hornets win eliminates the Pistons from postseason contention.
Ish Smith scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter — when the Pistons overcame a 15-point margin. Andre Drummond added 20 points, 17 rebounds, five steals and three blocks and Luke Kennard had nine of his 15 points in the final period.
“They were unbelievable. Ish, Luke, Dre, Langston, whoever was on the court for parts of the third and into the fourth,” said Blake Griffin, who played just 18 minutes because of a sore left knee. “They deserve all the credit because they went out and got it.
“They’ve been big all season long. Ish and Luke have been great. When we were making our run, those guys were key. It was no different tonight; they stepped up in a big way.”
Their 21-4 run to start the fourth quarter may have salvaged the season, after they trailed, 79-64, to start the fourth. Smith started with a jumper and Kennard followed with a 3-pointer. Drummond scored off a steal and Kennard hit another 3-pointer, trimming the lead to five.
After two free throws by Tyler Zeller (13 points), Kennard hit his third 3-pointer of the stretch. The Pistons had another push, with back-to-back 3-pointers by Langston Galloway and Smith, to tie it at 83, with 6:43 left.
The Pistons took their first lead since the first quarter on a Smith jumper but Chandler Parsons answered with a lay-in. The Grizzlies (32-49) took an 89-87 lead on consecutive dunks by Ivan Rabb and Delon Wright (15 points) but the Pistons responded with a drive by Bruce Brown, two free throws from Drummond and another jumper from Smith, to take the lead for good, 93-89.
“We knew what was at stake; we had an understanding of what it would take to win this game and we came out with a new energy after we allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do in the first half,” Drummond said. “We turned that switch on and started playing very hard in the second half and came out with a win.”
Bruno Caboclo hit another 3-pointer with 44.1 seconds left to pull within 95-93, but Smith answered with a drive and Wayne Ellington hit a pair of free throws to put the game away, with a 99-93 lead with 19.3 seconds left.
Griffin played just three minutes in the second half, moving around gingerly on his injured knee in the first half and just the first 3:12 of the third quarter before sitting for the remainder of the game.
“I wasn’t able to help us tonight. We’ll take it day by day and see what happens,” Griffin said. “I’m going to sit with our training staff (Wednesday) and figure it out.”