AUBURN HILLS — Maybe the Detroit Pistons aren’t out of the playoffs quite yet.
Tuesday’s win did came against one of the NBA’s worst teams, and Detroit is still three games behind Atlanta while trying to fight off the Knicks and Cavaliers, but it was a sign of life just when things threatened to get out of control.
The best thing for Pistons fans — at least the ones who want the team to make the playoffs instead of trying to lose enough games to save their first-round pick — is that Detroit beat Sacramento with tough defense. After allowing the Kings to score 54 points in the first half, Detroit held them to 11 in the third quarter and just 35 in the second half.
"We really gave ourselves a great chance with that defensive effort in the third quarter," Pistons coach John Loyer said. "They were 4-of-20 from the field, because we didn’t give them any easy looks and our contest rate was one of the highest of the year. That was a great stretch."
Sacramento, which fell to 22-42, shot 37 percent from the floor in the final two quarters and couldn’t even break 40 percent from the free-throw line.
"We lost the game when we scored 11 points in the third quarter," Sacramento coach Mike Malone said in a post-game press conference lasting just one question. "Josh Smith and Rodney Stuckey both kill us, and we let them do it again, and then we didn’t make any shots. That’s why we lost."
Andre Drummond was one of the game’s defensive stars, holding DeMarcus Cousins to 5-of-15 shooting despite being limited to 33 minutes by foul trouble. Drummond finished with 15 points, five blocked shots and eight rebounds, but Loyer didn’t think that summed up his performance.
"Some of the time, it just isn’t about numbers — I thought this was one of his best games defensively," Loyer said. "It’s tough to guard a player like Cousins in the post, but he did a very, very good job."
As Malone said, most of Detroit’s offensive damage was done by Stuckey and Smith, two players that have histories of playing well against the Kings. Stuckey, who scores more points against Sacramento than any other team, had 23 on Tuesday, while Smith had 24 after scoring 21 against them in November.
"We’re trying to play for something," Smith said. "I think we’re two, three games out of accomplishing our number-one goal, which is making it to the postseason. I want to contribute to that. I don’t want to sit home in April and think about what I could have done. I want to leave it all out there on the floor."
For the second straight game, Smith was even effective from behind the 3-point arc. After a 49-game stretch where he shot just 18.8 percent on threes, he is 5-for-8 in Detroit’s last two games, including hitting both attempts on Tuesday. Smith also knocked down several long two-pointers on a 10-for-17 night.
"I’m just concentrating on feeling more comfortable with my shot," he said.
PISTONS HONOR FORD, TITANS
Before the game, the Pistons held a moment of silence to honor Lions owner William Clay Ford, then had a pre-game ceremony to honor the University of Detroit’s basketball program. Several players have made the jump from the Titans to the Pistons, including Terry Tyler, John Long and Earl Cureton, and current coach Ray McCallum Sr. delivered the game ball before the opening tip.
There was, of course, another notable tie-in between the school and the game, as former Titans star Ray McCallum Jr. made his Palace debut. McCallum, who has split the season between the NBA and the D-League, got a nice hand from the crowd of 15,234 when he entered the game in the first quarter. He finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, playing much of the time with Isaiah Thomas in one of the NBA’s smallest backcourts.