Detroit — Many of the fans at Little Caesars Arena came to see rookie Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant in his first game against the Pistons.
It turned out to be a two-for-one.
Besides Morant, the fans also got to see a big game from former Michigan State standout Jaren Jackson Jr. The two combined for 45 points, helping the Grizzlies outmuscle the Pistons, 125-112, on Friday night.
Derrick Rose had 22 points and eight assists, Christian Wood 20 points and six rebounds and Reggie Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk 14 points each. The Pistons were without most of their starting lineup, with Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard and Tony Snell sitting out.
The Pistons (17-29) had won three of their previous four games and were looking to stay in contention for eighth place in the East, but with a shorthanded roster, couldn’t stay with the younger and more exuberant Grizzlies (21-24), who finished the game on a 20-7 run in the final 4:43.
Morant and Jackson were at the center of it, combining to score 12 of the Grizzlies’ final 17 points during the decisive spurt.
“Eventually, one of them is going to get going. I thought we did a decent job of slowing (Jackson Jr.) down in the third quarter, but then eventually, that is when Morant started getting to the rim and the free-throw line,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “(Morant) started creating havoc as far as collapsing the defense and getting people open. You have (Dillon) Brooks open and got Jackson Jr. open on the perimeter.
“The attention to detail down the stretch on your switches and rotations has to be on time and you can’t make mistakes in a close game. It was 105-105 and we made two straight defensive mistakes and you can’t do that.”
The Pistons trailed, 92-85, entering the fourth quarter, but made a furious rally, with six straight points, including a floater from Rose, a lay-in from Svi Mykhailiuk (14 points) and a jumper from Markieff Morris. That started a 13-5 run over a 3:23 stretch, capped by a 3-pointer from Langston Galloway (14 points).
That pulled the Pistons into a 101-101 tie with 7:12 remaining, before Dillon Brooks (27 points) hit a pair of free throws. Jackson answered with a 3-pointer, giving the Pistons a 104-103 lead, but Brandon Clarke (15 points and 11 rebounds) responded with a lay-in.
Jackson, a generally-dependable free-throw shooter, split a pair to tie it and Morant took over, scoring on a drive and then making two free throws after being fouled, for a four-point lead with 3:57 left.
Jackson was dominant in the first half, with 24 points, on 8-of-10 shooting, including three 3-pointers. He didn’t score in the third quarter, but got back on track in the final minutes, with a 3-pointer with 3:06 left, pushing the Grizzlies lead to 114-108, then catching an alley-oop from Morant to pad the lead at nine with 2:04 remaining.
The Pistons got within six on a 3-pointer by Wood but didn’t score in the final 1:48.
“We just had some breakdowns toward the end of the game and that’s not supposed to happen,” said Markieff Morris, who had nine points and five rebounds. “They’re a young, quick team and they played hard. They play together, and they’ve got some young, great talent. They just played hard and they got this one tonight.”
► Reggie Jackson started in his second game back from his back injury but with Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard out, there weren’t many other options in the backcourt. Tim Frazier was back in the rotation but was ineffective in the first half, which led to Langston Galloway starting in the third quarter instead of Jackson. The move helped, as the Pistons were able to bring Jackson in with the second unit in the third quarter.
“We were down so many people and they went on a 14-0 run and we tried to sub out. We had nothing on the bench and we can’t have that,” Casey said. “Guys want playing time and guys have a job to do when they go in and you give up a lead — now the rest of the night, we are clawing from behind.”
► Rookie Louis King got an extended run because of Snell’s absence. He played a season-high 14 minutes through the first three quarters and finished with three points. It’s good experience for King, who has played most of this season with the Grand Rapids Drive. He didn’t look out of place and had a couple of good plays in his extended time.
► The Pistons did a good job defensively on Morant, limiting him to 16 points, with only six in the first three quarters. With Brown out, they didn’t have many athletic guards to defend him, but from a team perspective, they were solid defensively. Morant averaged 17.5 points entering the game but got going in the fourth quarter.
► Rose scored at least 20 points in his 11th straight game, stretching to the longest streak of his career. Rose became the 13th Piston to record such a streak and the first since Richard Hamilton in 2006-07.
► Jackson looked like he was going to have a huge game after starting with 24 points in the first half. He was scoreless in the third quarter and got into foul trouble in the fourth, getting his fifth with 8:52 remaining. That forced him to sit for an extended period during the stretch before coming back in the final minutes. Jackson was good from 3-point range (3-of-7) and was 8-of-12 overall from the field, giving the Pistons fits inside and out.