AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons are cramming a lot of teeth-gnashing losses into the dying days of the season and The Palace’s last stand.
This time it was Toronto erasing a 12-point deficit in the final 7:26 and finishing on a 28-13 sprint from there to push the Pistons to the very brink of playoff elimination with four games to go.
“God, I don’t even remember getting a stop in the fourth quarter,” Stan Van Gundy said after the 105-102 loss, a game in which the Pistons led by 20 points in the second quarter and never trailed until Serge Ibaka’s 3-point shot with 1:21 to play. “And it was easy. We were slow on our rotations. We defended pretty well for three quarters and then just awful defense in the fourth.”
Toronto hit 16 of 24 fourth-quarter shots and 3 of 7 3-pointers, so the Pistons did get a few stops. But after Tobias Harris hit the triple to give the Pistons the 89-77 lead, Toronto scored on 12 of 13 possessions from there through DeMar DeRozan’s 19-foot jump shot with 25.6 seconds left put the Raptors ahead 104-100. They hit 12 of 14 shots in that stretch, two of them triples and a third a layup and-one for Kyle Lowry.
“They got hot. They scored 37 in the fourth. That’s uncalled for, obviously, for us,” Ish Smith said. “We’re going to have to go back and look at our defense and see what we messed up.”
Six Raptors scored during those 13 possessions, led by Lowry with nine points and DeRozan with six.
“We broke down defensively, maybe two or three stretches,” Marcus Morris said. “As a whole, we didn’t do what was in the game plan. I kind of gave up a shot or two.”
Morris was limited by foul trouble, but spent most of his 19 minutes guarding DeRozan. Just as in their March 17 meeting – in which the Pistons also lost a fourth-quarter lead, that time due to a season-low nine-point fourth quarter – the Pistons limited DeRozan’s scoring by doubling him to get the ball out of his hands. He scored 14 points in the first meeting, 12 this time on 5 of 17 shooting.
“But he had 10 assists,” Van Gundy said. “We did a good job with it for a while, but then we weren’t hard enough on the traps and they started picking us apart, running us around. We weren’t hard enough on our rotations, so they were getting whatever they wanted – layups, threes, whatever. So we got out of the blitz and then we didn’t do a good job containing him. Nothing we did in the fourth limited them at all. For three quarters, the defense was pretty good. And in the fourth quarter, it was horrendous.”
Lowry, Toronto’s other All-Star guard, returned from a nearly two-month absence with a wrist injury and didn’t exactly ease back into the lineup. He played 42 minutes and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. He was 4 of 4 in the fourth quarter with four assists, a steal and no turnovers.
“I’ve played with Kyle since my rookie year,” Smith said, teammates with Lowry in Houston. “I knew he was going to come out and be aggressive. He played well, hit some big shots. He does what Kyle does.”
The loss leaves the Pistons at 35-43 and in 11th place, three games behind Chicago, Miami and Indiana – all 38-40 – in addition to Charlotte, 36-43. The Pistons lose the tiebreaker to all of those teams except Charlotte.
“We’ve just got to try to finish out strong,” Morris said. “Hopefully, a couple of teams lose, but games like tonight, we have to have.”
“Tonight was a great start, but we played three quarters and that fourth quarter we allowed them to get up in us,” Andre Drummond said. “They made it real tough for us. A lot of turnovers were caused (six of their 15 in the fourth) and they came down and scored pretty much every possession or got fouled. Losing doesn’t feel good, but this one’s got to stick with us. This is the second time it’s happened to us.”
And combined with the Brook Lopez buzzer-beater to lose at Brooklyn two weeks ago, the Miami tip at the buzzer to lose last week, the overtime loss at Milwaukee in their last game out when they led by 10 with five minutes left in regulation, the Pistons absorbed another loss that will be part of the epitaph unless a miracle finish requiring an improbable set of circumstances involving multiple teams delivers them to the postseason.