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Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya had 10 points and 11 rebounds against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, in his first extended time this season. The Detroit News

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Los Angeles — For a half, the Pistons looked like a team that was going to pull an upset and get their best win of the season.

As has become a new normal, the third quarter was the separator.

The Los Angeles Clippers had a 37-16 runaway quarter and turned a six-point halftime lead into a blowout heading into the fourth quarter, taking a 126-112 victory over the Pistons on Thursday night at Staples Center.

The story was the starting debut of rookie first-round pick Sekou Doumbouya, who finished with a double-double: 10 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes. He faced a stiff challenge in a matchup against NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard but didn’t look out of place.

“I was impressed with the way he gave us the physicality. You’re guarding one of the best players on the planet in Kawhi Leonard,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Knowing he wasn't going to get any mercy from the officials, he was aggressive, and he doesn't know any better not to be and I was really happy. He was one of our leading rebounders and that was just as impressive as anything else.”

The Pistons had nine players score in double figures, the most since at least 1963-64, according to Sportradar.com.

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The Pistons were within six at halftime but a sloppy third quarter led to their third straight loss. The Detroit News

Bruce Brown led the way with 15 points and Tony Snell, Svi Mykhailiuk, Derrick Rose and Christian Wood 14 points each. Andre Drummond added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons (12-23), who lost their third straight and ninth in their last 11.

Those mostly have been filled with less-than-stellar performances after halftime.

“Again, you look at the third quarter, and if we come out like (the first half) in the third quarter, I don’t know if the results would be different, but it would be interesting,” Casey said. “So, the third quarter has been our nemesis and whether we have to change the lineup in the third quarter to get five men out there to get a quick start, I don't know what the issues are.

“We even changed up the routine a little bit and warmed it up a little bit earlier to get guys moving a little bit. But again, the third quarter kicked our butts.”

BOX SCORE: Clippers 126, Pistons 112

Blake Griffin missed his second straight game because of knee soreness, clearing the way for Doumbouya, who was 4-of-11 from the field and was hampered by foul trouble, getting his third late in the first quarter and his fourth early in the third period.

Doumbouya found out early Thursday that he’d be getting his first career start and the task that went with it.

“When I heard that for the first time this morning, I was nervous because (Leonard) is one of the best players in the league right now and I was nervous,” Doumbouya said.

The Clippers (25-11) fell behind early, giving up a 6-0 run, with Wood splitting a pair of free throws and Snell scoring on a drive. Mykhailiuk added a 3-pointer and the Pistons led, 17-12, before Leonard (18 points, six rebounds and five assists) answered with a three-point play.

Wood followed with a three-point play, Montrezl Harrell (23 points) had a three-point play and Rodney McGruder scored on a drive, tying it at 20. The Pistons took a 33-30 lead after the first quarter with a drive by Rose and a three-point play by Bruce Brown.

The Pistons continued with a 10-4 run to open the second, with four points by Langston Galloway and a steal and dunk by Drummond to take their biggest lead, 43-34, at the 9:42 mark.

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The Clippers responded with a 9-0 spurt, with 3-pointers by JaMychal Green and Paul George (12 points), who later left the game because of hamstring tightness and didn’t return. They had another 10-0 run toward the end of the quarter, for a 69-63 lead at the half.

The Clippers pulled away behind Leonard and Landry Shamet, who scored all eight of his points in a two-minute span. Shamet’s back-to-back 3-pointers — the second at the 5:09 mark — pushed the lead to 91-73.

The Pistons got within 12 late in the fourth quarter, but didn’t threaten the rest of the way.

Observations

►1. Doumbouya showed very good energy to start the game, despite the difficult assignment on both ends of the court. He was attacking the boards and provided some spark with his size and athleticism. His first basket was a steal and dunk while Leonard gave chase. With Griffin out, he played a season-high 27 minutes and seemed to be engaged and learning, even through his mistakes.

►2. Brown looked about as comfortable as he has all season in the offense, running pick-and-roll plays and showing a soft touch in the paint and around the rim. He was scoring easily inside and was 6-of-11 from the field, with two misses on 3-pointers. Since he returned to the second unit, he has been more effective and has been able to mix in the offense better.  

►3. The second unit had five players in double figures and was pivotal in the early minutes of the game. That included scoring 38 of the Pistons’ first 56 points. Brown led the way with 15 points and Maker had 10 points and three rebounds. It’s a positive showing, especially with several reserves elevated to the starting lineup because of injuries to the starters.

►4. Rose had an easy path to the basket for most of his drives and was effective in the first half, keeping the Pistons close. He finished 5-of-15 from the field and missed both his 3-point attempts, so the numbers weren’t overwhelming, but he’s still a difference-maker off the bench.

►5. The Staples Center crowd had chants of “We want Blake!” early in the fourth quarter. Though Griffin was active, it was designated on the pregame report that he wouldn’t play, nixing the chance that he would have an encore performance of his standout game last season against his former team.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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