AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — There’s a dirty little secret in the NBA that the young Detroit Pistons have yet to learn.
OK, it’s not really a secret, but even the elite teams in the league can be beaten if their opponents out-work them and they’re having an off night due to road fatigue, bad shooting or whatever.
But if you get one of those elite teams and you don’t put them away when you have the opportunity, they have the wherewithal physically and mentally to come back and win.
That’s what happened Monday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Despite their 0-7 start and grueling six-game west coast swing, the Pistons were the better team for large portions of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were in the midst of their own three-games-in-four-nights drudgery.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Pistons had a 73-62 lead.
In the old days, when the Pistons were among the elite teams, that game would have been over.
But the Pistons are not that team anymore. Right now they’re working to gain credibility and respect again after four down seasons.
They’re also a young team, meaning when things go sideways, as they often do, the Pistons can’t adjust as quickly.
The Thunder went with a small lineup to start the fourth, which enabled them to go on a 13-0 run to re-take the lead. That ended up being a 17-2 run and although the Pistons kept fighting, they had to keep fouling the Thunder and the Thunder didn’t miss those shots, finishing with a 92-90 victory.
“We just became very stagnant,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “They have the ability, with the length of (Kevin) Durant able to guard one through four, and (Serge) Ibaka protecting the rim. Some of that is on me, some of it is just on our decision-making. Their ability to be able to switch multiple positions gave us problems.”
The eight straight losses to start the season set a new franchise low.
The Pistons out-shot the Thunder, 40 percent to 37 percent, held the Thunder to 1-for-10 from three-point range and turned the ball over fewer times, 14 to 12, and even outscored them in the paint, 50-42, yet the end result was the same as Friday’s game in Oklahoma City, a loss.
The Thunder made 37 of their 42 free-throw attempts.
“That (the comeback win) was all on coach (Scott) Brooks,” said Durant, who had 26 points and nine rebounds. “He made the switches . . . Coach won this one for us.”
The second part of the secret the Pistons need to learn is that because they’re not an elite team, they can’t afford to have lapses in games the way elite teams like the Thunder can.
As everyone noted after the game, if you play with the same effort and intensity that you do against the Oklahoma City Thunders of the world against every team, you’ll beat the other non-elite teams.
“The effort’s been there both times we played Oklahoma City because we know what type of firepower they have,” said Tayshaun Prince, who had 12 points and six rebounds. “But now we have to understand that playing against these other teams, we have to come with that same mindset. Obviously this is disappointing but no matter who we play, we have to play with this type of aggression throughout the game.
“It’s just tough to swallow this one because guys put out a great effort for a long period of time in this game and Oklahoma City showed what type of team they are.”
Rodney Stuckey, who had his best game with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, agreed.
“It’s crazy. Our best performances were against OKC, both of them,” Stuckey said. “We just gotta play like that each and every time we step out on the court.”
The Pistons can’t pack it in now just as they didn’t pack it in last season when they started 4-20.
“If we compete like that every night, we’ll get our fair share of wins,” Frank said. “It can’t just be selective. It’s obviously disappointing to lose that game. Yet at the same time, I don’t ever think whether it’s a win or a loss it becomes a season-defining game. The season is just too long.
“You just have to have some resolve and bounce-back, that’s just the nature of this league.”