Pistons can’t hold on
AUBURN HILLS — Tony Romo, the Pistons know how you feel.
After struggling to hold late leads all seasons, Detroit did it again Sunday night, blowing a 13-point fourth quarter lead in a 111-109 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
"If this doesn’t sting, I don’t know what does," said Josh Smith, who led Detroit with 31 points.
Smith thinks that Detroit’s youth played a big part in the defeat, harking back to his days on an inexperienced team in Atlanta.
"When I was with the Hawks and we were young, we were in a lot of games where we couldn’t figure out how to close it out down the stretch," he said. "Those games stung a bit, and we didn’t want to watch them again, but when we sat down and watched film, we saw the reasons we were losing those games.
"We need to do that here, and see what we are doing wrong late in games, because this was definitely a winnable game."
Detroit should have had a big advantage down the stretch, since Portland played Saturday night in Philadelphia and weather delays meant they didn’t arrive at their hotel until early Sunday morning. Instead, they outscored the Pistons 26-15 in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of Brandon Jennings on both ends of the floor.
The Pistons still led by 11 points with eight minutes left, but a Jennings turnover started Portland’s comeback. He missed shots on the next two possessions, and the margin was down to four points in just 72 seconds. After that, the Blazers isolated Damian Lillard at the top of the key and let him take the ball right at Jennings.
"We called the same play a bunch of times down the stretch," said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. "We spread the floor with shooters, gave Dame a ball screen and let him make a play. He got the rim a few times and he got himself open for jumpers a couple other times. That’s his call — you want the ball in the hands of your best players in that situation."
Jennings got beaten twice in the last 35 seconds of regulation, fouling Lillard the first time and recovering to knock the ball away with a desparate lunge the second time. The play worked again early in overtime, giving Portland a 103-100 lead, and the Pistons had seen enough. When the Blazers went to the same setup with 13 seconds left in overtime, it was Rodney Stuckey guarding Lillard.
Stuckey did his job, keeping his man from getting to the basket, but he could only watch helplessly as Lillard hit a tough game-winning jumper as time expired.
"That was really good defense," Lillard acknowledged after the game. "The coaches told me that he was going to force me to make at least a double move, so when he blocked my first step, I spun back off my other shoulder.
"I still couldn’t get to the rim, so I just faded away from him to try to get something off. He contested it, but it felt good coming out of my hand."
While Lillard was attacking the rim, Detroit stopped doing just that. After getting the ball inside at will in the first three quarters, scoring 54 points on 56 percent shooting inside, they only had 14 points on 44 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Some of that was because of Portland’s increased defensive effort, but Detroit’s shot selection was baffling down the stretch. Smith, who had 28 points through three quarters, only got one more shot while Jennings went 2-8.
"It’s concerning that we didn’t finish the game when we had points in the paint that we missed," Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I think Brandon had two lay-ups and Andre had one. Those shots probably would have for the most part closed out the game, but we didn’t finish those shots and that is disappointing.
"We had shots at the rim that we probably would have made and that we had made throughout the game until that point."
Smith certainly agreed with his coach.
"It’s very frustrating," he said at the end of his biggest scoring night as a Piston. "This game was pretty much won, but we found a way not to win."