Free-falling Pistons fade late to 76ers, drop fifth straight

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — The injuries keep piling up for the Pistons and the losses aren’t far behind. It seems that when one player returns to the lineup, another is sitting out.

The pattern continued Monday, as the Pistons got Blake Griffin back in the starting lineup after a two-game absence because of the flu — but they were without Bruce Brown (calf soreness) and Luke Kennard (knee soreness).

Against the Philadelphia 76ers, being shorthanded was even more of a detriment. With their size and athleticism, the 76ers are a defensive nightmare.

Even with Griffin struggling offensively, the Pistons stayed close until the 76ers pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 125-109 victory on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.

BOX SCORE: 76ers 125, Pistons 109

The loss is the fifth straight and sixth in the last seven games for the Pistons (11-20), and at nine games below .500, they’re at their lowest point of the season. The injuries forced them to use their 13th different starting lineup of the season.

Andre Drummond, who didn’t start because he missed morning shootaround, was a spark with 27 points and nine rebounds. Derrick Rose added 16 points and seven assists and Svi Mykhailiuk had 13 points and four assists, but Mykhailiuk was the only starter who scored in double figures.

More: Beard: Changes likely for flawed Pistons; question is, how dramatic?

76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) guards Pistons forward Thon Maker (7) in the first quarter on Monday.

“It’s not just one thing — it’s a multitude of things,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to get together, get our rhythm and be a consistent group together and dig our way out of this.”

Griffin was just 2-of-14 from the field and some of the rust showed in his jump shots, which were short of the mark. He was just 1-of-9 in the first half and didn’t find a rhythm in the offense.

The Pistons are trying to keep their composure despite the losing, combined with the injuries.

“Obviously, it’s a disappointing loss, but just a lot of frustration for a lot of different reasons,” Griffin said. “Coach Casey’s message afterwards is just to stay together, get it right, move on and get ready for Washington (on Thursday).”

The 76ers (22-10) had a 94-86 lead entering the final period, but the Pistons pulled within 98-92 at the 9:02 mark after a basket by Rose. The 76ers’ James Ennis III hit a 3-pointer and Josh Richardson added basket. Two free throws and a basket from Tobias Harris (35 points), who had six straight points for the 76ers, extended the run to 13-2 for a 111-96 advantage.

Furkan Korkmaz (21 points) finished the run with a basket and after a free throw from Griffin, Korkmaz added a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 17. The Pistons never got within single digits the rest of the way.

In the second quarter, the Pistons had a 41-40 lead after a basket by Drummond, but the 76ers countered with a three-point play by Harris, which ignited a 16-3 run, with nine points by Harris. Rose had six straight Pistons points and Drummond had two dunks in a 9-2 run that closed the deficit to 62-61 with 9:51 left in the half.

The Pistons got within 84-79 with a 7-2 spurt, with two baskets by Christian Wood, but Ben Simmons (16 points, 13 rebounds and 17 assists) had a dunk and Korkmaz had a drive and 3-pointer to help cushion the lead.

Here are more observations from Monday's game:

► Griffin had a miserable start in return after missing the previous two games because of the flu. He shot 2-of-14 from the field and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. He’s been laboring in recovering from his knee injuries, but his jump shots have looked short for most of the season and he hasn’t had the same lift on his drives to the basket. His lateral movement has been up and down, but he doesn’t look like he’s near 100 percent.

► Wood returned to the lineup a little earlier than expected. He sustained a knee injury against the Raptors on Dec. 18 and was projected to miss a week but returned Monday, with eight points in four minutes. He was needed in the frontcourt rotation, with the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Al Horford.

► Griffin and Harris got into a little scuffle midway through the third quarter. It looked to be just words exchanged and the players had to be separated. After review, they each got a technical foul. It was the second double-technical of the game, along with Ben Simmons and Christian Wood.

► The 76ers had a 48-30 advantage on the boards, marking the third straight game that the Pistons had been bested in rebounding. With Embiid and Horford, it’s to be somewhat expected. But with Drummond out of the starting lineup and Wood limited, it was an uphill battle from the opening tip.

► Mykhailiuk had one of his better games offensively, showing a comfort level on the offensive end. He was the only Pistons starter who scored in double figures, with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He made four 3-pointers and split a pair of free throws but if he can continue his rhythm beyond the arc, he can solidify more playing time, especially with the depleted lineup.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard