Defensive struggles trouble Pistons in loss to Clippers

AUBURN HILLS — Josh Smith has flaws in his game, but there’s no question that he knows how to play defense.

That’s why it was such a bad sign when Smith was asked Monday why, halfway through the season, the Pistons are still completely unable to stop an opposing offense.

"I don’t know," Smith said, the frustration obvious on his face. "I don’t know. You’ll have to ask someone else."

Monday afternoon, the Pistons knew they needed to get off to a quick start. The 1 pm start for Martin Luther King Jr. Day meant the Clippers were playing at what felt like 10 o’clock in the morning, and doing it without Chris Paul. Get a few early baskets, shut off the Los Angeles post offense and get a big crowd into the act.

Instead, the Pistons stood around and watched "Lob City" put on a show. DeAndre Jordan dunked four times in the first four minutes of the game, and Blake Griffin threw down a few of his own on his way to 21 first-half points. The Clippers scored 64 points in the first half and only 14 missed free throws kept the final score down to 112-103.

"We didn’t put up any resistance," Smith said. "They were getting 3-pointers in transition, and wide-open 3-pointers out of halfcourt plays. They were getting easy dunks and layups in transition and throwing all kind of lobs, and we didn’t do anything about it."

The Clippers got sloppy in the fourth quarter, trying a little too hard to duplicate Jordan’s famous alley-oop over Brandon Knight last season, but the stats at the end of the third period show how bad Detroit had been defensively. 

Los Angeles was shooting 60 percent from the floor, and hitting from everywhere on the court. They were at 69 percent in the paint, 56 percent on 2-point jumpers and 47 percent on 3-point jumpers, numbers that the Pistons had no chance of matching. 

Some of Detroit’s defensive struggles are because of youth — Andre Drummond gave up 16 points and 21 rebounds to Jordan while JJ Redick tortured rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — and they also are still trying to mesh after Joe Dumars rebuilt the roster during the offseason. 

Smith, though, isn’t buying that.

"You don’t want to make excuses," he said. "As a professional, you have to be a student of the game. I don’t care if you are young or old, you can always learn something. It’s good (playing in the NBA), and you’re going to have fun, but at a certain point you have to buckle down.

"You have to watch film — watch your opponents, watch yourself. You have to try and get better in order to last in this league."

The veteran knew better than to call out any of his teammates by name, but he didn’t want to hear about the NBA schedule being too busy to watch tape.

"I go home after practice, I don’t follow these other guys home," he said. "But we’ve got a lot of time on our hands in this job. You just have to do the work."

To make things worse for Smith, he and Rodney Stuckey had to carry the offense as well. They combined for 53 points on 23-of-42 shooting on a day when Greg Monroe only took three shots and Brandon Jennings went scoreless for just the second time in his career.

"That’s just a product of the game," Maurice Cheeks said. "We needed more guys shooting and scoring, but Josh was playing well and Stuckey was obviously playing well. You have to go with the way the game goes. There are going to be games when guys don’t play well, and that’s what happened with Greg and Brandon."