Familiar troubles surface in Pistons' 107-96 loss to Clippers

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

The slow and debilitating starts to games have become a familiar and frustrating script for the Detroit Pistons on the beginning of their five-game road trip.

The Los Angeles Clippers scored the first four baskets Friday afternoon and pushed it to a 24-point halftime lead before recording a 107-96 victory over the Pistons. Detroit trailed 14-0 in Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee against the Bucks and ended up losing by 21 points.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Luke Kennard, right, is defended by Detroit Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo during the first half.

The chances to be competitive at the end of games have been lost early for the Pistons (4-15). They got as close as 11 points in the second half — even after the Clippers (11-8) built the lead up to 29.

But it took too long to stoke the fire. And the only thing accomplished was making the final score more respectable.

“We played with some desperation,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said after his team outscored Los Angeles, 48-30, in the final 18:25. “That’s the attitude, the philosophy we have to have at the start of the games, and that was the message at halftime.

“We can’t let our bad shooting dictate the energy level on defense. Our defense down the stretch, we were playing hard. But we have to start that way.”

Detroit forward Jerami Grant came back from his 1-for-10 shooting in the first half to score 20 with 10 rebounds, and forward Trey Lyles had 13 points. Guards Cade Cunningham, Cory Joseph and Frank Jackson each had 10.

BOX SCORE: Clippers 107, Pistons 96

Reggie Jackson led Los Angeles with 21 points, and was followed by Terrance Mann (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Eric Bledsoe (15 points). Center Ivica Zubac had 10 points and 13 rebounds, as his team had a 43-39 edge on the boards.

Detroit had center Isaiah Stewart back from his two-game suspension for his altercation with superstar LeBron James, who received a one-game ban in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 121-116 victory Sunday at Little Caesars Arena.

“I’m not going to let that define who I am,” Stewart said after the game. “What Detroit drafted me for defines who I am, and the way I play basketball. So, I don’t want to address that no more. My main focus is on helping my teammates and coaches.”

Stewart had four points and 12 rebounds, and also returned with several stitches to close the wound near his eye.

“He has six or seven (stitches) across his eye,” Casey said. “I told him they were beauty marks.”

Casey assessed the play of Stewart, who Detroit took with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Washington: “He was getting some sweat shots. He gets into the paint with force.”

Detroit will play James and the Lakers on Sunday night at the Staples Center. There will be plenty of focus on the combatants taking the court against one another just one week after the incident.

“It was an unfortunate situation,” Casey said. “But nine out of 10 would’ve responded in the same manner. ... seeing blood and getting hit. Maybe (going after James) the second or third time was going overboard. I don’t think LeBron’s a dirty player. It’s an unfortunate situation for both men.”

Casey said the fracas — which began with James elbowing Stewart while positioning during a free throw and ended with Stewart needing to be repeatedly restrained after the initial scuffle — needs to be placed in the “rearview mirror.”

He noted that the return of Stewart means his “energy and toughness inside” is back in play for his team.

Detroit got off to another slow start with Grant missing nine of 10 shots in the first half before going 4-for-6 in the second half. Rookie Cunningham went 1-for-6 while missing all three 3-point shots before intermission. He was only 2-for-7 after the break, missing two more treys, but was 4-for-5 from the free-throw line.

Bledsoe— who nailed three treys to help get the Clippers their early lead — had 13 by halftime. Zubac had eight rebounds as Los Angeles had a 34-20 edge on the boards before Detroit had its 19-9 edge in the second half.

Casey termed Zubac “one of the most underrated centers” in the NBA.

The Clippers managed to dominate without their best player. Kawhi Leonard, who suffered a partially torn ACL in the playoff series with the Utah Jazz that required surgery, doesn’t have a return date scheduled.

Detroit played without point guard Killian Hayes, whose thumb injury has kept him out of four consecutive games. That meant more playing time for Joseph and Jackson, who both scored 10.

Jackson, a third-year guard from Duke, discussed the need to ramp up the team’s level of play from the opening tip-off.

“You’ve got to compete at all levels or the results are not going to come,” Jackson said. “We have everything we need. We have talent. Once you play hard, it takes you through a lot of things.

“If we fight for 48 minutes, it will take care of these things. When it does click, it’s going to be special.”

The Pistons will close out this road trip with games at Portland (Tuesday) and Phoenix (Thursday) after the rematch with the Lakers.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.