Pistons flub the encore, fall to Knicks 114-104

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons used a balanced team approach to push past the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

The same formula didn’t work against the New York Knicks, who look to be on their way to a special season.

For the second time this week, the Knicks easily handled the Pistons, taking a 114-104 victory on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Pistons (10-26) enter the All-Star break with the worst record in the Eastern Conference but with some flashes of what their future could look like. They won’t play again until Thursday at Charlotte.

All five starters scored in double figures, with Wayne Ellington leading the way with 17 points, pacing the Pistons in scoring for the second straight game. Saddiq Bey had 14 points, Mason Plumlee 12 points and 13 rebounds and Rodney McGruder 13 points.

BOX SCORE: Knicks 114, Pistons 104

The Knicks (19-18) finished the first half above .500 and are fifth in the East, led by All-Star forward Julius Randle, who had 27 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.

“Nobody can ever question our heart and our grit; we fit the city of Detroit,” Casey said. “What we have to add to that is thought and experience.”

The Pistons stayed close until late in the second quarter, when the Knicks reeled off an 11-0 run, with four points from Randle and a drive and a free throw by Elfrid Payton (20 points).

They finished the run with a basket by R.J. Barrett (21 points) for a 15-point lead. Dennis Smith Jr., who had 12 points against his former team, scored with 9.9 seconds left and the Pistons trailed, 59-46, at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Pistons pulled closer with a 7-2 run, with a drive by Ellington and a 3-pointer by Svi Mykhailiuk (11 points). The Knicks answered with a 9-2 run, with two baskets by Payton, keeping the Pistons at bay.

“The grit and grind and stick-to-it attitude is at the top of the list,” Casey said. “Sometimes the shooting is going to be there and sometimes, it’s not.”

Every time the Knicks looked to pull away, the Pistons found a way to make another charge to try to keep the game within reach. That included another good game from Ellington from 3-point range, going 4-of-10 from beyond the arc, following his season-high eight 3-pointers on Wednesday against the Raptors.

The Pistons had another surge in the fourth quarter, opening with a 3-pointer by Mykhailiuk and a drive by Sekou Doumbouya (10 points) and a 3-pointer by Bey, getting within 95-82 at the 8:18 mark. They whittled away at the lead and eventually got within single digits at 105-96 with 3:15 to go on Bey’s three-point play.

Randle answered with a jumper and Bey added another three-point play, but the Knicks held on down the stretch.

The Pistons shot 49% from the field and 39% from 3-point range, but the defense didn’t hold up, allowing 66 points in the paint.

Here are some observations from the loss:

►The Pistons again were shorthanded because of injuries to Jerami Grant (quad contusion) and Josh Jackson (illness) in the last two games. Delon Wright continued to recover from a groin injury, meaning that the young players had to play more minutes and in longer stints. It’s working to their favor in accelerating their development.

►Rodney McGruder was solid again, with 13 points, on 6-of-10 shooting. He’s been a big help off the bench, offering another option as the Pistons have been shorthanded because of injuries. He’s a veteran and may not fit into the long-term plans for the Pistons, but he’s shown that he can be prepared when his name is called.

►Dennis Smith, coming off his triple-double on Wednesday, had another good game against his former team, with 12 points, two assists and two rebounds. He’s finding where he can penetrate and exploit the defense but also looking to set up his teammates for easy baskets. Like McGruder, he may not be in the long-term plan, but he could extend his career — with the Pistons or another team — by the way he’s playing now. 

►Sekou Doumbouya had 10 points, but it was how he was able to score — from beyond the arc and getting to the basket — that was encouraging for him. He’s been struggling because he hasn’t had consistent big minutes, but he’s finding a niche when he’s getting more time.