Pistons struggle in paint, fall to Suns

November 19, 2014

AUBURN HILLS -- A shot from five feet or closer is one of the easiest things in a very difficult game.

So why can't the Pistons do it?

Wednesday, Detroit missed 30 shots in the paint on a night when only missing 29 would have gotten them into overtime, and a mere 28 could have meant a much-needed victory. Having taken 53 in the 88-86 loss to Phoenix, it won't be hard to find the ones that should have gone in.

"That's the worst thing about a game like this," said Greg Monroe, who did manage 18 points while his teammates were flailing. "When you lose by a couple points like this, all you do is think about the one play that could have changed the game. We held them to 88 points, which is pretty good defense, so it is the offense you look at."

Monroe went 7-for-17 from the floor, a poor night by his own standards, but at least he played well enough to stay in the game. Josh Smith and Andre Drummond, his front-court partners, were a combined 4-for-15, and both spent the last moments of the game watching from the sidelines while Stan Van Gundy put three guards and Jonas Jerebko on the floor with Monroe.

Smith had been benched earlier than that, coming out of the game in the third quarter and having an animated discussion with Van Gundy before sitting out the entire fourth.

"Our discussion had nothing to do with why Josh didn't play in the fourth," Van Gundy said. "I was just happy with the guys we had on the floor."

However, for a team playing three post players in Smith, Drummond and Monroe, inside scoring has been a huge problem. The Pistons are shooting under 50 percent in the paint this year, one of the worst marks in the NBA.

"We've talked about this before, and it really hasn't changed," Van Gundy said. "We're doing a good job of attacking the basket, and we're getting good looks in there. We're just not finishing them. That's something that we've got to fix."

It's an especially big problem for the Pistons, who can't count on outside scoring to win games. They did make a dramatic run in the final moments of the game, when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings hit three straight 3-pointers to give Detroit a one-point lead with 34 seconds to play, but before that, they had gone just 4-for-21 behind the arc.

Then, after letting Eric Bledsoe slice through the defense for an easy go-ahead layup, the Pistons failed on both types of shot with a chance to win the game. Jerebko drove to the basket, but had the ball knocked out of bounds. Jennings took the inbounds pass and drove inside, but Markieff Morris blocked that shot.

Finally, with time running out, Caldwell-Pope launched a hurried 3-pointer that bounced harmlessly off the rim. Another loss, dropping the Pistons to 3-9.

"I don't want to ever say I feel bad for a team that lost a game," Van Gundy said. "But I have some empathy for the guys that were out there at the end. They hit some big shots and they made some big stops, but they just didn't get the win. That's tough."

Fittingly for a game played on the 10th anniversary of the Ron Artest riot, the night ended with a weird bit of trash talking. Morris, who had gotten into a minor shoving match with Caldwell-Pope in the first half that resulted in a double technical, said he and his teammates knew the game was over when they saw who was taking Detroit's last shot.

"Caldwell-Pope got the ball, and we know he doesn't have any heart, so we knew he was going to miss it."