This one hurt. After a great start offensively, the Pistons let a win slip through their fingertips losing to a Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers team 101-96. The loss extends the Pistons losing streak to three but a win tomorrow against the Los Angeles Lakers would mean a .500 west coast road trip. At this point though, nothing should be taken for granted.
With no Paul, the Clippers were going to lean heavy on power forward Blake Griffin and he delivered.
Griffin entered the league as a one trick (albeit an impressive one trick) pony but the evolution of his game was on full display as he finished with 34 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. His ability to put the ball on the floor combined with a knack to hit an open mid range shot, Griffin proved to be too quick for Ersan Ilyasova and too strong for Marcus Morris / Anthony Tolliver. His offensive rebound and subsequent field goal was arguably the play of the game putting the Clippers up three with seventeen seconds left.
Blake Griffin is truly a unique talant and perennial all star, with Paul out, a big effort was almost expected. A 37 point night from the seemingly ageless Jamal Crawford was not.
Granted, Crawford is a handful to stay in front of but the combination of Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Steve Blake did little to keep the shifty guard out of the lane. Crawford also finished with eight assists; once he penetrated, he made the Pistons scramble kicking out to open shooters or finding DeAndre Jordan for a lob. While isolated against
a pylon Steve Blake on the final possession of the third, Crawford bee lined straight to the hoop giving the Clippers an 81-80 lead (their first lead since 3-2).
Throughout the game, the Clippers ran a steady diet of high pick and rolls for Crawford and Austin Rivers and in defense of Jackson, KCP and Blake, Piston bigs did little in the area of hedging or recovering. Basketball is a team game and as a team, the Pistons failed in this department. The pick and roll is a staple of pretty much every NBA team and it was a little disheartening to see the Pistons get burnt over and over by something that was hardly smoke and mirrors. Add the fact that Chris Paul wasn't the one doing it and it's even worse.
Pistons day could be summed up as the good, the bad and the ugly.
Ersan Ilyasova had his best game as a Piston finishing with 20 points including 3-4 on three pointers and drew a charge late in the fourth that almost changed the course of the game. Ilyasova showed some versatility using his post up game to draw fouls and cash in at the line going 7-9 from the stripe. He played the stretch four role exactly how Stan Van Gundy imagined it when he made the trade to acquire Ilyasova from Milwaukee. Drawing a charge is something we're getting use to, it's becoming his calling card.
Stanley Johnson was playing a homecoming of sorts and the nerves initially showed as his first shot was a driving air ball and he followed it up with an absolute brick three-point attempt on his second shot. Once the game slowed down though, Johnson looked like he belonged. He showed signs of creativity and playmaking, but unfortunately had nothing to show for it as Aron Baynes couldn't convert on two nifty Johnson passes. On defense, he lined up against a handful of different Clippers and, for the most part, held his own.
The ups and downs of Andre Drummond's post game continues and, at best, is a work in progress. As expected for a young big learning the post game, the consistency is not there. One time down the court he'll look poised, balanced and fully in control only to follow it with a wild, off balanced and rushed attempt. One thing is consistent: the closer he catches the ball to the basket, the more success he finds. Drummond has a bad habit of starting his post up in the mid range area forcing multiple dribbles to get to the basket and giving the defense multiple attempts to disrupt his action. No one short of a young Shaquille O'Neal could body up our big man, he's got to catch the ball closer to the hoop.
After the Sacramento King game ended, Stan Van Gundy preached the importance of ball movement. The Pistons started the Clipper game making good on improving that aspect of their game (finishing the first half with 12 assists) but as it went on, they drifted back into their inefficient comfort zone. At times, Reggie Jackson will dribble the air out of the ball and did so too many times in the fourth for the Pistons to overcome. Jackson is a playmaker, we've seen it....but he's got to find some sort of happy medium with driving and actually running a functional offense.
This one got away. Legit question: are the Pistons learning or are they simply not as good as their 5-1 start had us believing?
I still believe it's the former but if they can't handle a very bad Lakers team on Sunday, I might have to revisit my answer.