Pistons run out of gas, can't stop Pelicans' Williamson in 128-118 loss in New Orleans

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Trying to play hard for three games in four nights catches up with even the most energetic and exuberant teams. The Pistons, with their infusion of young players, fit that description, but they don’t defy the idea of running out gas in that situation.

After a gutsy, bounce-back performance against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night, the Pistons didn’t have the juice left on the second night of a back-to-back to kick into high gear when they needed the extra energy.

Actually, they did, but only for three quarters.

The Pistons stayed close to the New Orleans Pelicans for most of the game, but the home team pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 128-118 victory on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.

Without leading scorer Jerami Grant — who sat out to rest for the first time this season — the Pistons had to find other sources for offense, and they got them. Josh Jackson had 25 points and six rebounds, Mason Plumlee 21 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four blocks and Saben Lee and Saddiq Bey added 13 points each for the Pistons (9-23).

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

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The Pelicans had just too much in their transition scoring and wore the Pistons down as the game progressed.

“We did some good things. I think when some guys get opportunities, a lot of times, they run out of gas. The first couple of games, they go on adrenaline and excitement, and then they come back down as far as conditioning,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We were a little gassed in that area, and that's why I was trying to run guys in and out to get some fresh bodies in.”

It was another strong performance for the point guards, as Lee and Dennis Smith Jr. combined for 24 points and 10 assists, with no turnovers.

The combination of All-Star forwards Zion Williamson (32 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Brandon Ingram (27 points, seven rebounds and eight assists) were a big difference for the Pelicans (14-17).

Williamson had 11 points in the third quarter and his basket in the final seconds tied it at 96 entering the fourth. Williamson opened quarter with another lay-in and the Pelicans got a pair of 3-pointers from J.J. Redick and took a 104-100 lead, but Lee followed with a steal and basket.

The Pistons got within four on a reverse lay-in by Jackson, but the Pelicans pulled away with a 7-0 run midway through the fourth with a 3-pointer and a drive by Ingram, plus a drive by Josh Hart to extend the lead to 11.

As the Pelicans got out in transition, with 26 fast-break points, the Pistons had to play catch-up and didn’t stay with them.

Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) and New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram reach for the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

Plumlee and Smith had back-to-back baskets, but Steven Adams (14 points and 15 rebounds) scored on consecutive possessions and pushed the lead to 10 in the final 2:17.

The pace of the game got away from the road-weary Pistons, which was a lesson that they can process quickly, before they get back to it at home on Friday against the Sacramento Kings.

“That's what I told them: Remember how this felt on Friday night, because we get Sacramento on a back-to-back,” Casey said. “This team came out with a purpose of running us, and they did a good job of running us and for whatever reason, we ran out of gas down the stretch.

“It's not an excuse, but let's remember that, getting back at transition. The 26 points in transition is a typical indicator that something is afoul as far as your energy level in getting back.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard