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'Atrocious' start hampers Pistons in defeat to Trail Blazers, skid at six

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Portland, Ore. — With the Pistons in rebuild mode, there will be plenty of losses in the remainder of the season.

There also will be some surprises.

Early on in Sunday’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers, it looked to be more of the former than the latter. The Blazers had a 19-point lead eight minutes into the first quarter, but the Pistons flipped the script.

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, left, shoots over Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood during the first half.

In less than a quarter, the Pistons erased the deficit, but the Blazers rallied late for a 107-104 victory at Moda Center. The loss extends the Pistons’ losing streak to six games, after the first game of their four-game western trip.

Christian Wood had 26 points and nine rebounds, Brandon Knight added a season-high 15 points and Derrick Rose 15 points for the Pistons (19-40), who play at Denver on Tuesday.

“I thought we played hard; our guys competed. We got out to a good start then we didn't play smart in the first quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I’ve got to do better job of getting the right group in and the right combinations in in those situations, but I thought we competed and got back.

“The second unit came back and got us into the game. Brandon Knight played well, John Henson came in and changed the game and Christian Wood came in and changed the game.”

BOX SCORE: Trail Blazers 107, Pistons 104

In a back-and-forth game, the Pistons had a 95-86 lead with 7:43 remaining after Wood scored on an alley-oop from Langston Galloway (13 points). The Blazers (26-32) answered with a 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes, with seven points by CJ McCollum, who finished with 41 points, nine rebounds and a career-best 12 assists.

Carmelo Anthony, who had a season-high 32 points, added a 3-pointer and Hassan Whiteside (16 points and 17 rebounds) scored on a putback dunk before consecutive drives by McCollum put the Blazers ahead, 101-97, with 2:00 remaining.

Rose ended the run with a driving lay-in, but McCollum responded with a pair of free throws. Wood kept the Pistons within two with a putback dunk, but Anthony helped create a cushion with a jumper to make it 105-101 with 20.4 seconds left.

It wasn’t quite over. Wood hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds remaining to get within 106-104 and after McCollum split a pair of free throws, the Pistons had a last shot to tie it, but the Blazers got a steal on the final possession and held on.

The Pistons had a 23-3 run, including 19 straight points, in the big run early in the second quarter. Wood had nine points during the streak and Knight added a pair of 3-pointers. The slow start bugged Casey, where he’s considering ways to try fix it.

“It’s two games in a row that our start has been atrocious. We’re too calm — I want to see someone get upset, get mad and break a bottle,” Casey said. “Nobody is upset except for me over there. I thought the second group that came in competed.”

Observations

► There was a clear differentiation between the first and second groups for both teams. The Blazers had a 97-34 advantage among the starters and the Pistons surged with their second group, with a 70-10 margin from the bench. Casey said the starting lineup is fluid but the slow starts in the last two games have hurt the Pistons.

► John Henson has been steady for the Pistons since arriving from the Cavaliers. He’s brought some stability in the middle and with eight points and seven rebounds on Sunday, he’s been good. Casey lauded his professionalism and ability to adapt quickly to new surroundings in Detroit.

► Anthony looked to be his vintage self, going 11-of-16 from the field, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. The Pistons struggled to defend him and when he got cooking in the first quarter, they had to throw different defenders at him to try to keep him off balance.

► Knight was aggressive offensively and got to the rim and was 3-of-7 on 3-pointers. He hasn’t made a big impact in the few games he’s been with the Pistons, but his boost in the second quarter helped keep them in the game until they could pull themselves up.

“He really showed tonight what he hadn’t shown in some of the other games,” Casey said. “He played with a lot of confidence and a little swagger.”

► The newest Pistons, Derrick Walton Jr. and Donta Hall, both on 10-day contracts, didn’t play in their first game in uniform. With the game so close down the stretch, it wasn’t worth putting them in to potentially make a mistake, but given the scoring woes, it could be in the next game or two that they make their debuts.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard