AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — At one point in Friday night’s second quarter, the Pistons held an 18-point lead over the hapless New York Knicks — a team that came into the game at 0-16 without Carmelo Anthony.
Two hours later, the Pistons were trying to explain an inexplicable, inexcusable 121-115 double-overtime loss. Detroit has now lost at home to the teams with the five worst records in the NBA: New York, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Orlando and Denver.
"We’ve had a lot of these games. We’ve lost more than a dozen games to teams with fewer wins than us," said a frustrated Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. "If you aren’t willing to play defense and rebound, you aren’t going to beat anyone."
Greg Monroe finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, but missed several key free throws down the stretch and allowed Lou Amundson nine offensive rebounds. In a very quiet locker room, he struggled to explain why the Pistons keep losing to terrible teams.
"There’s clearly something going on. We have to find a way to focus for every game that we play, not just the ones against good teams," Monroe said. "Tonight, we relaxed at halftime, and it came back to haunt us again."
The Knicks, who trailed 51-33 with three minutes to go in the first half, went on an 8-2 run to finish the second quarter. That still gave the Pistons a 12-point lead going into the second half, one that should have been more than enough for a comfortable victory over a team that is playing for lottery position.
Instead, New York needed only three minutes to cut the deficit to three points, pulling within 55-52 on Tim Hardaway Jr’s 3-pointer.
"That’s the second game in a row where our starters have come out for the second half and not been any good," Van Gundy said. "We didn’t even try defensively, and it made it easy for them to get back into the game."
Monroe’s missed free throws hurt the Pistons, especially when he missed one that would have given them a lead with 12 seconds left in the first overtime period, but he wasn’t the only one that struggled. Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler, Detroit’s small forwards, combined to shoot 0-for-8 and forced Van Gundy to use a three-guard lineup down the stretch.
The worst offender, though, might have been Reggie Jackson. After two impressive games to start his Pistons career, Jackson went 5-for-24 from the field against the Knicks and had seven shots blocked. At the end of regulation, he dribbled out most of the clock before flipping the ball to Anthony Tolliver for a rushed 28-footer at the buzzer.
"Reggie makes the decisions that he makes," Van Gundy said. "In the last two games, they were great. Tonight was not great."
The Pistons have shown great progress this season and still have a shot at one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. However, they aren’t going to get there by giving away more games to teams that are only finishing the season because the NBA says they must.