Detroit —The concern wasn’t so much how Blake Griffin would assimilate back into the Pistons mix after missing the first 10 games with left knee and hamstring issues. It was how the rest of coach Dwane Casey’s rotation would adjust to Griffin.
“We can’t expect Blake to come back and save the world,” Casey said before the game Monday night. “Everybody’s got to do their job, do their job hard, do it better and smarter and take care of the ball. The intensity he gives us, the athleticism he gives us — so many good things happen when he’s on the floor. We don’t want him to ease in. Play his game.
“But we can’t have high expectations for him and then everybody else just ease off the job.”
Prophetic words, given how things played out in the Pistons 120-114 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Little Caesars Arena.
Griffin and point guard Derrick Rose, both on injury restrictions, played in five-and-a-half minute stretches.
"The key is, we're trying to get it so we can have Rose and Blake together as much as we can in the fourth quarter," Casey said. "Believe me, it's a trigonometry lesson trying to get them both out there together and staggering the minutes.
"It's tough. I know it's for their health but it's difficult. It's difficult for the team to come in and get a rhythm."
Griffin ended up playing 24 minutes. He scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half. He also had seven rebounds and five assists. He had to come out of the game with 6:47 left in the fourth with the Pistons rallying.
"Physically, I felt fine," Griffin said. "I wish I could go more, play longer and get into more of a rhythm. I felt like I never really got into a rhythm and I wasn't able to contribute down the stretch.
"I've got to do better."
Rose, who missed the last four games with a hamstring strain, played 20 minutes and produced six points and five assists.
"First game back there's going to be rust, but we're pros, we will figure it out," Rose said.
The Pistons got off to a sluggish start defensively and when Andre Drummond picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, the Timberwolves asserted control.
"Cheap fouls," Casey said. "We need Andre. He struggled tonight and he was still a plus-8. We need his presence on the floor, his rebounding, his screening."
Averaging 21 points and 18 rebounds coming in, Drummond was limited to 11 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes.
"We had a good game plan," said guard Luke Kennard, whose 25 points led the Pistons. "We just didn't play hard enough to execute it."
The game was lost, for all intents and purposes, in the first quarter. It was 18-18 when Griffin and Rose sat down at the 6:56 mark. The Timberwolves finished the quarter on a 23-8 run, including a 14-1 spurt, and established a 41-26 lead.
"They are the highest scoring team in the NBA in the first quarter," Casey said. "We played like we didn't know that."
The Timberwolves, playing their third game in four days, two of them going to overtime, took the play to the Pistons in the first half. They ended up scoring 66 points, shooting 53.5 percent from the floor and 56.3 percent from beyond the arc.
"Just ask the question — do we want to win?" Rose said. "Do we want to come out and play hard or do we want to get spanked like this every night. We need everybody to be on the same page and working to move as a collective group.
"We've got to figure this out."
Andrew Wiggins (33 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (25) led the Timberwolves, who made 15 of 34 3-point shots. Jake Layman made four of five from behind the arc and scored 16 off the bench.
Down by as much as 19 in the third, the Pistons managed to cut the lead to seven with 9:33 left in the game and then had it down to five, 109-104, with 2:27 left.
But Wiggins and Towns drained back-to-back three-pointers to effectively kill the rally.
The Pistons, who had won their previous eight games against Minnesota, play in Miami Tuesday and Casey said he wasn't sure how much Rose and Griffin would be able to play.