Pistons lose opener to Harden, Rockets

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Detroit Pistons were all set up for some Opening Night magic, but James Harden and the Houston Rockets had other plans.

In front of a nice crowd of 16,646 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which included owner Tom Gores, Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, Red Wings executive Chris Chelios and Kid Rock, the Pistons exchanged leads with the Rockets eight times.

Everything looked good heading into the fourth quarter. The Pistons had a nine-point lead, thanks to a good defensive third quarter in which they held the Rockets to just 17 points.

It kind of figured that former Piston Carlos Delfino would supply the dagger in the form of four three-pointers, taking the wind out of the Pistons’ sails. The result was a 105-96 loss and an 0-1 record to kick off the season.

But when you consider just how young the Pistons are, you have to expect there will be some nights like these. In fact, there will likely be more of them than not.

“This is the first step in a very, very long journey,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “But it’s discouraging if we’re going to be a defense-first team, you go from holding them to a 17-point third quarter to then the floodgates opened. To give up a 33-point fourth quarter, that’s not a recipe to win.”

It’s especially tough to give up 33 points in the fourth when you only score 15.

“It was a circus out there the whole game,” said Tayshaun Prince, who had 12 points and four rebounds. “They hit threes and went up, then we came back. We kept going back and forth. We had a good end to the third quarter. They started the fourth real well and made some big shots. From that point on, we just couldn’t gain control.

“A couple bad turnovers here and there and then the offense shut down. A young team needs to know that you have to play consistent basketball and if you don’t, this can happen. We have a lot of work to do.”

That is both the good news and the bad news for the Pistons, that they have a lot of work to do. It’s good because it means they have some talent and can learn from their mistakes. It’s bad because it means they’re going to have to make a lot of mistakes in the process.

They’ll also need some more support from the veterans. Rodney Stuckey shot 1-for-10 for just nine points while his opposing counterpart Harden scored 37 points with 12 assists and six rebounds.

“We played in stretches,” Stuckey said. “We’ve just got to do it for 48 minutes. They just did a good job of spreading us out. James Harden was getting in the paint, transition, they were making threes and stuff like that. Just got to do a better job of protecting the paint and getting back. That’s defensively. Offensively, ball wasn’t moving. Just got to get some movement and I think we’ll be fine.”

Harden was just traded to the Rockets this past Saturday and signed a five-year, $80 million contract before Wednesday night’s game. He seemed intent on proving he was worth it against the Pistons.

“We thought he would have had a tougher time as far as figuring out their offense,” Prince said. “But they only stuck to a couple plays the entire game, which helped him out and kept him in good rhythm. We know what type of player James Harden is. The more he has the ball in his hands, the more dangerous he is.”

The Pistons won’t have to wait long for their mettle to be tested. They now head out on a six-game, 10-day road trip that will take them through Phoenix, Los Angeles (Lakers), Denver, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Houston.