The Memphis Grizzlies call themselves the "grit and grind" bunch, and they certainly showed why in beating Detroit for the eighth straight time Friday night, 111-108. Down by seven points (89-82) with less than three minutes left, they rallied behind Marc Gasol. He scored eight of their next 13 points, and his tip-in with 8.2 seconds left tied the game.
But it was an unexpected hero who led the way in overtime for Memphis – former Piston Tayshaun Prince. After Will Bynum closed the gap to 99-97 with three minutes remaining in the extra period, Prince stroked a 3-pointer to extend the Grizzlies lead to 102-97. Then, after Gasol blocked a Greg Monroe layup attempt, Prince assisted Zach Randolph on a layup at the other end. Prince later made a jump shot and one of two free throws, finishing with eight points (six in overtime).
The outcome left Pistons fans befuddled that their team could come so close to beating one of the West’s best on their home court, yet let what seemed like a certain victory elude their grasp. With 2:49 left in the fourth quarter, Detroit went up 89-82 off an Andre Drummond layup. When a Marc Gasol free throw closed the gap to three points, Josh Smith hit a triple to give the Pistons a 94-88 edge with 1:09 remaining. That looked like the dagger, as well as the shot that would redeem Smith’s otherwise miserable shooting night (7-23 and 3-11 on threes).
Mike Conley quickly drew a foul on Drummond and sank both free throws to narrow the lead to four, but then he fouled Chauncey Billups with 52.3 seconds left. Game over, right? No. Billups missed the first shot, then made the second. With Detroit up 95-90, Gasol made a jumper, was fouled by Monroe and converted the foul shot to narrow the deficit to two with 42.1 on the game clock. After Monroe was called for offensive goaltending on the ensuing possession, Memphis got the ball back with less than 20 seconds remaining. Gasol missed a shot, but tipped it in to tie the game at 8.2 seconds. Billups had a shot at an open three before regulation expired, but missed it. Randolph converted two foul shots on the Grizzlies first possession of overtime, and from then on they never trailed.
The game at the FedEx Forum began well enough for Detroit, which led 21-17 after the first quarter. The key contributor was surprisingly Rodney Stuckey, who entered the contest with under five minutes left in the opening quarter, and promptly scored eight points to spark the visitors. Stuckey finished the game, his first action since he broke his thumb on Oct. 9, with 19 points on 8-13 shooting.
Memphis surged back in the second quarter behind strong play from their bench and defensive ace Tony Allen, who scored 10 points and nabbed three steals in the first half. Zach Randolph also had 10 points at the break, but the Pistons held Gasol and Conley to three points apiece. Down 47-41 at the halfway mark, Detroit was led by Stuckey with 11 points, Will Bynum with seven, and our "Big 3" with six points apiece.
Conley began to heat up for the Grizzlies in the third quarter, extending their lead to 59-49 with 6:45 left on a jumper. Then suddenly the Pistons came roaring back, as first Monroe and then Stuckey got hot. When Stuckey hit a fadeaway with about eight seconds left, Detroit regained the lead, 69-67. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made his first NBA 3-pointer during that 20-8 Detroit run. He scored 10 more points in the fourth quarter, and his dunk at the 4:53 mark gave the Pistons their largest lead yet, 87-80. He finished the evening with a very efficient 13 points.
Conley led all scorers with 22 points. Allen and Randolph each scored 16, and Gasol netted 15. For Detroit, Smith matched Stuckey with 19 points among six players in double figures. Bynum finished with 18 and Monroe had 16. Drummond scored 12 points and led all rebounders with 16.
While Smith’s overall production was strong (eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, three blocks), his five turnovers and 16 missed shots made a major negative impact. Yes, Billups’ uncharacteristically poor shooting (1-7 on field goals and 2-4 on free throws) was also a critical factor on a night when the rest of the team shot 34-59 (.576 percent). The difference, of course, is that Billups did not take 26 percent of his team's attempts on a night when his shot was off.
"We definitely let this game get away," Billups said. "Oh, man. This kind of game just sits on you. You hate to lose like this. You’re in control, but it happens. It’s the NBA. You’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve got to learn – be better, execute down the stretch, take care of the ball. With all of that, you have a shot to win it, a shot we wanted. I didn’t knock it down, but that’s basketball. That’s how it goes."
Through their first two games, the Pistons have seen the best and the worst from both Smith and Billups. They can only hope that they’ll see much more of the best, and less of the worst, in the coming months.