WASHINGTON – Let’s let Stan Van Gundy take over the postgame dissection.
“Not a very hard game to analyze, guys,” he said after emerging from the Pistons postgame locker room. “Turnovers and fouls. That’s the game.”
It began with a turnover, the 115-111 loss to Washington that saw the Pistons lead by a dozen in the second quarter, trail by 15 early in the fourth and rally back to take a two-point lead late. Inbounding under his own basket, Reggie Jackson’s pass was stolen and flushed at the other end by Kelly Oubre to set a tone for what would follow.
The Pistons turned it over 17 times, four times in the fourth quarter, twice in the final minute. When Jon Leuer blocked Bradley Beal’s shot with 46 seconds left and the Pistons down two, Avery Bradley headed the other way and looked headed for a semi-contested layup attempt to tie. Instead, the ball wound up getting deflected off of Bradley and out of bounds to Washington.
They had one more try to tie after Bradley forced and won a jump ball with 21 seconds left. That one didn’t end in a turnover, though it might have been ruled as such after John Wall got his hands on the ball as Jackson rose in the paint for a shot to tie. It was ruled a block, instead.
When someone relayed Van Gundy’s postgame analysis to Jackson about turnovers and fouls being their undoing, Jackson said, “Definitely. Yeah,” and then he exhaled a loud sigh. “We definitely fouled a lot, had some crucial turnovers. We wish we could get it back, but we have to move on and get ready for tomorrow.”
For as much as the turnovers hurt the Pistons, the foul shooting disparity dwarfed the impact of points off of turnovers. While Washington finished plus-four in that category – 23 points off 17 Pistons miscues to 19 Pistons points off 15 Wizards turnovers – the gap at the foul line favored the home team by 14. Washington made nine more free throws (29) than the Pistons attempted as the Pistons committed 11 more fouls.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball. We’ve got to quit fouling,” Van Gundy said. “That’s been both games. We can’t have the difference we have at the free-throw line.”
The Pistons won their opener by 12 points despite being outscored by 12 from the line in 17 fewer attempts than Charlotte.
Jackson made a few allusions to the disparity as a result of an unfavorable whistle. Asked why the Pistons were able to rally back, he said, “We were finally allowed to play basketball.”
For all of their turnover woes in the first half, the Pistons still managed to get to halftime with 65 points in the bank and a six-point lead. And it was their second unit that did a lot of the heavy lifting, sparked by rookie Luke Kennard. After not playing in the opener, he scored 11 first-half points and hit his first five shots.
“My teammates and coaches, they just kept telling me to be ready and that’s what I did,” Kennard said. “I’ve listened, I’m taking this opportunity that I have and I’ve learned a lot. Now I’m just going to stay ready and if my name is called, just play and I want to make an impact however I can.”
The second unit didn’t have nearly the same results in the second half, necessitating Van Gundy to rush his starters back after the deficit reached 15. Andre Drummond then picked up three fouls in a 45-second span. Jon Leuer slid to center to replace him and that’s when the 14-0 run to come within a point was begun. A few fewer fouls and turnovers, they just might have pulled it off.
Their critical missed opportunities in the final minute aside, it was a comeback sparked by Jackson and Bradley. Eleven of Jackson’s 21 points and eight of Bradley’s 18 came after they returned to the game with 10:44 left and the Pistons down 15.
Van Gundy took encouragement from the resolve his team showed down the stretch in a place where they’ve been handed some of their most thorough defeats over his first three seasons.
“We’ve got some fight in us,” he said. “I think we’re showing that. That was a question mark at times last year. I think we’re showing unselfishness. If we continue to do those things, we’ve got a chance. Now we’ve just got to get better.”