AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — When the Pistons were champions, they always struggled with the Utah Jazz.
Nothing has changed.
Detroit had a 15-point lead against a demoralized Jazz squad Saturday night and still managed to lose 90-87. Utah has now beaten the Pistons 13 times in the last 14 games.
“We had a good feeling about this game, especially after a good win last night,” Jason Maxiell said. “Now we come out with a tough loss.”
Utah blew a late lead Friday night in Atlanta and wasn’t feeling good when they fell behind by double figures in the first quarter on Saturday.
“No one said a word before the game because we still had a sick feelings in our stomachs after last night,” Randy Foye said. “Then we got way behind right at the start tonight, and it wasn’t good.
“But it turned into a complete reversal of yesterday. Tonight we were the ones coming back.”
The Pistons were still leading 50-39 at the half but were physically dominated in the last two quarters.
“They scored 25 points in the third quarter, and I think 17 or 19 of them came in the paint,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “We didn’t get stops. We didn’t defend our paint and then we started to show some frustration on offense.”
Al Jefferson was Detroit’s biggest problem in the third quarter. He scored 10 points and led the defensive surge that held the Pistons to just 11.
Like Foye, he was glad the Pistons didn’t bury the staggering Jazz when they had the chance.
“Even after this win, we’ve got a bitter taste in our mouth because we know we should have had a perfect road trip,” Jefferson said. “We were in trouble early tonight, but we were able to keep in touch until halftime.
“That’s when I told Paul (Millsap), that if he and I took the lead, the rest of the team would follow. That’s what happened.”
The Pistons didn’t completely fold, regaining the lead early in the fourth, but Utah answered with a 17-3 lead that appeared to put the game away.
That’s when Will Bynum took over. He scored eight points in 90 seconds, pulling the Pistons within 89-85, then knocked the ball away from Foye. That set up a Brandon Knight layup, making it a two-point game with 27.1 seconds to play.
Frank chose not to foul, and the Jazz ran the clock down to 4.1 seconds before Earl Watson whipped a pass past Greg Monroe to Millsap. Bynum was forced to foul to prevent the clinching dunk, and Millsap could only split the free throws.
That gave Detroit a chance at a tying 3-pointer, but Knight couldn’t get it over 6-foot-8 DeMarre Carroll. Knight, Frank and the Pistons thought Knight was fouled on the shot, but official Scott Wall didn’t agree.
Wall had given Frank a technical earlier in the fourth for being out of his coaching box and wasn’t interested in the coach’s arguments after the buzzer.
Frank, unwilling to get fined, refused to comment on the final play in his postgame press conference.
In the end, it was another inexplicable loss that the Pistons can’t afford if they want to make a serious run at a postseason berth. Utah came into the game off a brutal loss and started poorly, giving Detroit control of the game.
But the Pistons couldn’t build any momentum off Friday night’s game in Milwaukee, and suffered the same third-quarter collapse that was their trademark in the first six weeks of the season.
Detroit now has a few days off before their next game, but they also face the farthest road trip in franchise history. They play the Knicks on Thursday afternoon at the O2 Arena in London — the same stadium that hosted the basketball and gymnastics finals in the Summer Olympics.