'Sea legs' stymie Pistons in loss to Heat

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Miami — On Monday, the Pistons welcomed Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose back to the lineup. A day later, the two stars were back out of it.

Both Griffin and Rose rested on the second night of a back-to-back, leaving the Pistons shorthanded. A flight delay for the team plane getting to Miami added to the Pistons’ woes. They fell into a 29-point deficit in the second quarter and battled back to make it interesting in the fourth quarter.

The Miami Heat's Duncan Robinson (55) shoots over the Detroit Pistons' Luke Kennard (5).

Close, but not close enough.

The Pistons got within eight points in the final five minutes, but couldn’t get any closer, as the Miami Heat took a 117-108 victory on Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (4-8), who don’t play again until Friday in Charlotte.

BOX SCORE: Heat 117, Pistons 108

Luke Kennard had 22 points and five assists, Christian Wood 16 points and Andre Drummond 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 8:38 left.

“We competed in the second half, but it took the first half for us to wake up and that was the unfortunate part,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We can make every excuse that we want to — getting in at 5 or 6 in the morning; it doesn’t matter.

“It took us a half to get going against a good team and I liked our compete level in the second half and the way the guys moved the ball and we shot the ball better, but it’s a way you start and we put ourselves in a hole to start the game.”

The Heat (7-3) led, 28-17 after the first quarter and pushed it to 55-26 at the 4:47 mark after a 17-0 run. Goran Dragic (18 points and six assists) hit a 3-pointer and followed with a lay-in. Kelly Olynyk added a 3-pointer and they finished the run with a dunk by Bam Adebayo (18 points and 14 rebounds) and Kelly Olynyk added a 3-pointer to make it a 29-point margin.

The Pistons finished the last 4:47 with an 11-4 run, but only cut the lead to 59-37. They finished the first quarter with 17 points and managed only 37 points by halftime, both season lows.  

Kennard was scoreless in the first half but hit his first shot of the third quarter, a 3-pointer, en route to his third straight game of 20-plus points. He had back-to-back 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that trimmed the lead to 16, a turnaround from a miserable first half.

“We took the same shots, but we were able to get guys open and played a lot better,” Kennard said. “That’s how we were able to get back into it.”

The Heat’s Kendrick Nunn (Oakland University) was fouled on a 3-pointer, making two of the three free throws, and followed with a 3-pointer to end the spurt. The Pistons answered with an 11-3 spurt and were within 78-63, but Nunn added back-to-back 3-pointers.

That started a 12-3 run that pushed the lead back to 22, with a drive from Jimmy Butler (20 points and 13 assists) and consecutive baskets from Dragic.

The Pistons kept scrapping and got within 99-90 after an 11-3 run, including a lay-in and two free throws from Thon Maker (12 points). Wood hit a lay-in and the Pistons looked to be on the doorstep to a comeback, but Nunn added his fourth 3-pointer of the game and the lead was back to double digits.

The lead got back to single digits a couple more times but the Heat cruised down the stretch.

Here are some observations from the matchup.

►The Pistons looked sluggish early, with some good reason. Their plane, scheduled to arrive in Miami at around 2:30 a.m. after last night’s game in Detroit, got in about three hours late due to weather delays. It was somewhat disruptive to their routine and being shorthanded without Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, the rotation was shorter.

“It’s sea legs; we were still flying but it’s no excuse. Miami did a good job of getting into us and they knew we got in late and they were pressuring us,” Casey said. “That said, we still have to fight through adversity. That’s what life is about and this game is about. It was a good test but we didn’t come out of it.”

►Kennard started 0-of-7 from the field, missing all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half. He was 8-of-11 from the field in the second half. He started the game with Jimmy Butler, an elite defender, guarding him and he wasn’t stifled as much as the shots were just a bit off.

►Bruce Brown was a key facilitator, with a career-best 11 assists, along with three points and seven rebounds. He’s been struggling to score of late but is contributing in other ways. With Reggie Jackson and Rose out, there aren’t many other options at point guard, but Brown is filling in as well as can be expected for a fourth option.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard