Pistons crumble late, drop season opener against Timberwolves

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Entering the regular season, the Pistons had several questions, after a nine-month layoff because of the pandemic, a short training camp and quick preseason.

They got a few answers in the regular-season opener, jumping to a 14-point lead in the second quarter but folding in the fourth. They left with a disappointing 111-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at Target Center.

Josh Jackson had 19 points and six rebounds and Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose 15 points each. Mason Plumlee added 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists and rookie Killian Hayes seven points and three assists in his debut.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley (5) shoots next to Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) during the second quarter.

The Pistons never trailed in the first three quarters and started the fourth with an 85-80 lead and pushed the margin to eight after back-to-back dunks by Jackson with 9:09 left.

The game changed in the final period when the Timberwolves switched to a zone defense, creating several of the Pistons’ 15 turnovers, including a pair on bad passes from Hayes to Blake Griffin.

“Overall, there were a lot of positives, but we just have to be able to close it out,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to have poise down the stretch, stay together down the stretch and make sure we understand what we’re trying to do.”

More: Josh Jackson shines but untimely turnovers doom Pistons in opening defeat 

After those errant passes, Jarrett Culver had four straight points and Malik Beasley (23 points) added a lay-in to tie it at 95 with 5:39 left.

“It was careless passes. It was soft passes, not (Ricky) Rubio being clever. “It was understanding what our options were in transition a couple of times. In the zone, I thought we got decent looks and got in the paint against it; we kicked it out and missed some good looks.”

Rose scored on a drive to regain the lead, but Karl-Anthony Towns (22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) hit a 3-pointer to get the Wolves to a 98-97 advantage at the 3:37 mark.

Jackson followed with a dunk and helped keep the Pistons in the game with eight points in the fourth quarter, but the Timberwolves continued turning it up on defense. Towns added two more free throws for a 100-99 lead and Jackson answered with a drive in the lane to capture the lead.

Minnesota closed it out in the final minutes, with back-to-back 3-pointers by D’Angelo Russell (18 points) and Beasley, turning it into a 106-101 margin. The Timberwolves added two more free throws from Towns and a three-point play by Josh Okogie (12 points) for the final margin.

After leading for most of the game, having it come down to a couple of possessions was tough to handle for the Pistons. It’s a learning experience, but they know reducing turnovers is going to be a big key to their success.

“Absolutely. That's part of what we talked about before coming in the game, and again at halftime,” Jackson said. “Coach gave us a compliment and said that we were doing really well. And then toward the end, we just lost it. It's something that we're going to watch and try to learn from and come back and get better. It sucks.”

Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, had a good first outing with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.

rbeard@detroitnews.com