The real story here was the second half. After a mostly even first half, the Pistons surged in the third quarter, led by Brandon Jennings. Reminiscent of the first game of the season, Detroit played frantic, frustrating defense, got out on the perimeter, and looked like the team we all hoped they would be. The Pistons' lead ballooned to sixteen points late in the third, and the team looked poised to run away with a home win.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be. New Orleans closed the third quarter on a nine to two run, and proceeded to chip away at the Pistons' lead, setting the stage for an exciting (or horribly depressing, depending on perspective) finish.
With nineteen seconds left and the game tied at 101-101, New Orleans inbounded the ball to Eric Gordon, and in those nineteen seconds, the Pistons demonstrated everything that has made them such a frustrating team this season.
If you missed the play, here it is in all its glory/humiliation:
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Glpdcd-0cGM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Let's start with the obvious and the good:
The Pistons went small to counter the Pelicans' shooters. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - the Pistons' best on-the-ball defender on the perimeter - was tasked with covering Eric Gordon, the Pelicans go-to scorer. Rodney Stuckey made a judgment call to stick with Anthony Morrow, who was four of five from deep.
And that's it. From here on out, this possession is a defensive train wreck.
First things first, KCP gets beat. KCP overplayed Gordon's crossover to his left, and his momentum (to KCP's right) prevents him from recovering when Gordon spins to his right.
Typically, this is where help defense would come in, but this is Pistons' basketball, and KCP gets hung out to dry.
Rodney Stuckey jumps to cover Morrow when Gordon makes his first move to the left-hand side of the floor. I think Stuckey made the right play given Morrow's shooting performance, and KCP effectively cut off that move anyway.
When Gordon changes direction, Brandon Jennings gets caught standing in no man's land. He literally stands in the worst place he could possibly be. He's too far from his man to get back if Gordon kicks, and he's not nearly close enough to KCP/Gordon to provide any help.
Josh Smith makes the same mistake, except worse. Where Jennings is covering a shooter, Smith is covering Anthony Davis, who settles into the short corner and never makes any attempt to involve himself in the play (until the ball is airborne, when he makes a play for a potential offensive rebound). Josh Smith stands. To his credit, he does contest the shot, but he's out of position. By the time he leaves his feet to contest, he's still several feet below the low block, when he should be at or above it. Instead of forcing a pass to the non-shooter in the short corner, he waits too long, and there's nothing he can do but jump in futility.
Also, Andre Drummond - who outplayed Anthony Davis all night - was on the bench watching as helplessly as Smith and Jennings.
Questionable rotations and terrible defense. The Pistons' season in a nutshell.
Gordon's shot is certainly no gimme, but you have to figure the Pelicans would take a six-foot floater from Gordon that was mostly uncontested at the point of release every time down the floor.
The game wasn't immediately over, however. The Pistons had a timeout left, which did not get called. If you listen carefully to the footage that you can find via NBA.com, you can hear Maurice Cheeks yelling for a timeout, but the refs miss it, and the game ends.
- Andre Drummond had his first twenty/twenty game of his career, against the number one pick in his draft class no less. Twenty-one points, twenty boards, two blocks, and a steal. He wasn't perfect, but he was still brilliant. Why in the world does Cheeks go with Smith instead of Dre on the last play of the game?
- The Pelicans are shooting 45.6% from the field and 35.7% from deep on the season. The Pistons allowed 50.7% and 41.2% respectively. And those totals include the third quarter, where the Pistons held the Pelicans to just seventeen points overall. Truly abysmal.
- Greg Monroe played twenty-five minutes. Apparently, he's on a short leash. Admittedly, he didn't play well - his five turnovers hurt, and minimizing turnovers has to be the next step in his development. But, he's got the shortest leash of any Piston in the rotation right now, and that is bewildering.
- Brandon Jennings finished the game with twenty-eight points, seven assists, one turnover, and he got to the line fourteen times. Unfortunately, that amounts to 1.07 points per possession, which while better than most of the other options for the Pistons' on Friday, is just not good enough to get it done consistently.