LOS ANGELES – The Pistons came thisclose to setting an NBA record they wanted no part of and it tells you as much about their 20-point loss to the Lakers as you need to know: They went nearly 42 minutes without a free throw and more than 47 with only one, which would have tied an all-time record. With 33 seconds left and both benches emptied, Eric Moreland shot and missed a pair.
And, yeah, there were a handful of plays where the Pistons felt they should have been shooting free throws. Tobias Harris, involved in the bulk of them, picked up a technical foul pleading his case in the second half. But the aggressor usually gets the benefit of the doubt on whistles and there was no mistaking the identity of Tuesday’s aggressor in the 113-93 Pistons defeat to put a damper on what had been a spectacular road trip.
“They just came out with a lot of energy. They came out and punched first,” said Reggie Jackson, one of the few Pistons to find anything offensively, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. “They found some rhythm, they got comfortable and then it was just hard to try to slow them down after that.”
The Lakers beat the Pistons inside (62 points in the paint), outside (12 of 26 from the 3-point line) and off the bench (52-30 scoring edge).
“We didn’t have the energy to run cuts. We had a lot of guys stopping the ball, dribbling the ball, pounding the ball. And we did not make plays,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We can go right down the list. Anything you bring up. We didn’t defend. We didn’t get back defensively. We didn’t protect the basket. We didn’t close on shooters. We didn’t handle the ball well. We didn’t move the ball. I mean, whatever you want to bring up. It was total and complete. There’s nothing we did well and they dominated us.”
The Pistons came back from 13 down in the third quarter to beat the then-unbeaten Clippers on Saturday to open the three-game trip, then from 14 down in the third quarter less than 24 hours later to beat the defending champion Warriors. They were in a similar spot against the Lakers – down 12 midway through the quarter, 15 to end it – but there was never the hint of a closing rally. The closest they came was 11 points on three occasions of the fourth quarter.
“We kept on pushing and trying to cut it and get back into the game,” said Harris, who matched Jackson’s 18 points. “But they just made too many shots. We weren’t able to get enough stops and, offensively, we weren’t in the flow all game. At that point, it’s really tough to try to get back into it and try to cut the lead.”
Even if the Pistons were a little back on their heels to start the game, they trailed by just three to start the second quarter. But backup big men Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma sparked the Lakers, Randle – an undersized center – taking first Henry Ellenson and then Jon Leuer off the dribble and Kuzma, a Flint native and Utah rookie, hitting 4 of 4 from the 3-point line. They combined for33 points on just 17 shots.
“I thought that’s when the game really opened up,” Van Gundy said. “Kuzma and Randle took Henry and Jon apart. They just went at ’em and took ’em apart. That opened up the game and then we were never able to really make a run back of any note whatsoever.”
Van Gundy pulled Ellenson after nine minutes and went with Anthony Tolliver then and again in the second half. Leuer ended the game with a sprained left ankle, though X-rays were negative.
Van Gundy sounded the warning after Tuesday’s shootaround, expecting the Lakers to take the fight to his team and hoping for a firm response.
“Disappointing that we weren’t mature enough to be ready to play this game better than we were,” he said. “That was disappointing. Hopefully we learn from it as we move on throughout the year.”
But they all would’ve taken a 2-1 road trip if it had been offered as they boarded their charter flight last Thursday and the Pistons come home for a five-game home stand with a 5-3 record, 3-2 in road games.
“Wish we could’ve gotten another one,” Jackson said. “Trip just shows us how good we can be, but also a game like tonight humbles us again and lets us know we have to come out and compete together each and every night on both ends of the floor so that we can reach our ultimate potential.”
“What we can take away is definitely a learning experience,” Harris said. “Two games that we really dictated how we were going to play and one game where we let the other team dictate how they wanted to play. It’s something we have to be able to understand and to be a really good and successful team we have to be the team that’s dominant from the start and dictating the pace of the game and the intensity of the game.”