No blood: Pistons fight to finish but fall to LeBron, Lakers

By Steve Galluzzo
Special to The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Seven days after an altercation between Detroit center Isaiah Stewart and Los Angeles superstar LeBron James resulted in both players being suspended, they were back on the court, facing off in the teams’ second and last regular-season meeting Sunday at Staples Center. 

Cooler heads prevailed and while there was no hint of retaliation by Stewart or his teammates, the Pistons showed fight on the floor for the full 48 minutes of a 110-106 defeat to the Lakers — their sixth consecutive loss but the closest margin since their 105-102 loss to Golden State on Nov. 19. Detroit (4-16) resumes its five-game road trip Tuesday night in Portland. 

Lakers forward LeBron James, left, gets past Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo, right, on Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said beforehand that he expected there to be “raised awareness,” but he was not overly concerned since “we’re all pros out there.” 

The incident he was referring to occurred in the third quarter of the Lakers’ 121-116 win Nov. 21 in Detroit when James elbowed Stewart in the face while the two were jostling for rebounding position on a free throw, opening a gash over Stewart’s eye. Both were ejected. James was suspended one game for what the league called a “reckless hit” while Stewart, who had to be restrained multiple times, received two games for “repeatedly and aggressively pursuing (James) in an unsportsmanlike manner.”  

Stewart, who served his suspension against Miami on Tuesday and Milwaukee on Wednesday, returned to the lineup for Friday’s loss to the Clippers and reiterated he “didn’t think it was an accident” but added he would not address the situation again. 

Focused on the task at hand from the tipoff on Sunday, Stewart had a layup and an assist in helping the Pistons fire out to a 7-1 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes. Los Angeles had pulled ahead, 23-21, by the end of the first quarter and led 51-48 at halftime after Cade Cunningham’s 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim. 

BOX SCORE: Lakers 110, Pistons 106“Our flow was much better, the ball moved, we had 29 assists and we shot 40 percent from 3-point range, but we gave up 19 points off of 17 turnovers,” Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey said. “A lot of those were careless passes. It’s like you put your finger in one hole and another opens up. Six turnovers in a five-minute stretch in the third quarter cost us tonight. I wish I had a magic wand to say ‘hey, don’t turn it over’ but that’s the toughest part of rebuilding. I see growth, we’re not seeing the wins, which hurts as a competitor.”  

Cunningham sank a 28-foot 3-pointer to tie it on Detroit’s first possession of the third quarter, but the Lakers got their transition game in gear and outscored the visitors by 13 points the rest of the frame to take an 83-70 lead into the fourth quarter. 

After trailing by as many as 19 points in the second half, Detroit pulled within 97-91 with less than six minutes left on Cunningham’ 3-pointer, within 106-100 on Frank Jackson’s layup with 2:15 left, within 108-102 on Jerami Grant’s layup at the 1:05 mark and to 108-104 on Grant’s two free throws with 16 seconds left. Grant’s dunk with two seconds left cut the deficit to three, but Lakers reserve Taylor Horton-Tucker hit the first of two free throws to ice it. 

Grant, who netted 36 points in the previous encounter versus the Lakers, was again the Pistons’ high-scorer with 32 points, 16 in each half. Stewart had five points and six rebounds in 27 minutes while Cunningham added 15 points. Off the bench Trey Lyles had 13 points and Hamidou Diallo added 10. 

“We have to keep learning from our mistakes and we’re getting closer to playing a complete game,” Grant said. “We did a great job of moving the ball, we just had a mental lapse in the third quarter. Going into the fourth quarter I was telling everyone not to hang your heads. In the NBA if you’re 20 points down you can make that up in five minutes.”

James paced the Lakers with 33 points and nine assists, Russell Westbrook had 25 points and nine assists and power forward Anthony Davis, who put up 30 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and four steals in the teams’ first matchup, got 24 points and 10 rebounds this time.  

“We came out with a lot of intensity," James said. "Got out and ran, shared the ball and worked possessions. When we work our possessions from side to side and don’t get stagnant, we’re a really good team."  

Casey was not surprised at Grant’s performance. He scored 68 points in two games against the Lakers. The Pistons’ coach also noted the spark Lyles provided.

“Jerami can get his own shot and he’s fearless,” Casey said. “He can take you off the dribble and get to the rim. And Trey’s a weapon. He’s been a valuable addition for us. He gives us more energy on the defensive end and he’s able to spread the floor.”    

The Pistons’ travel woes continued as they dropped to 2-8 away from Motown. Their last road win was Nov. 13 in Toronto. The Lakers improved to 11-11. 

Killian Hayes, who was listed as probable with a left thumb sprain, logged 21 minutes, contributing six points and five assists. Fellow point guard Jackson, recovering from a left ankle sprain, had 17 points. Forward Kelly Olynyk remains sidelined with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee suffered in a Nov. 10 win at Houston.

As far as the James and Stewart, Grant stressed it was “just basketball.”

“Things happen in this game,” he said. “We wanted to put that behind us and we did.” 

Steve Galluzzo is a freelance writer.