Imagine this scenario: flipping on Monday’s Pistons-Hawks game early in the second quarter, seeing the Pistons up 39-24.
“Wow. They must be playing great. Maybe I should check the boxscore to see how they’re doing it.”
They were doing it, you would find out, by allowing Atlanta to shoot nearly 70 percent in the first half and making an inordinate number of 3-pointers to offset the Hawks making a large number of 2-pointers. As you could predict from there, it wouldn’t last. The Pistons are actually not that bad a 3-point shooting team, fourth in the league at 38 percent. But early on, they hit their first six threes and were over 80 percent for most of the first half. It’s rare that those numbers can hold up, and once they stopped hitting at such a high clip, the Hawks quickly took control by pounding it inside to Josh Smith and Al Horford, two players the Pistons never hold in check (and tonight was no exception: 37 points, 16-for-25 shooting and 18 rebounds between the two of them). When Detroit tried to give help inside, Atlanta’s bigs found Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson.
It turns out, those two shoot the ball pretty well when defenders only half-heartedly try and close out on them.
The Pistons played two of their worst quarters of the season in the second and third. The second quarter featured porous defense. Atlanta shot over 60 percent in the quarter because they took almost no contested shots. Defenders didn’t close out on jump shooters. Post players established position anywhere they wanted. Shots went in.
In the third quarter, it was the offense that failed. Pistons starters shot 38 percent for the game. In the third quarter, they rarely worked for better shots. The few good shots they got, they missed at the rim.
But remember when I said those were two of the worst quarters the Pistons played this season? I think the fourth quarter doesn’t need that qualifier: that was some of the worst basketball I’ve ever watched.
The Pistons managed just 11 points in the fourth. John Kuester went away from his starters, who played sluggish all night, too late, and the bench, which gave a bit of energy in the first half and has been reliable over the last few games, wasn’t up to the task. Will Bynum and Ben Gordon shot a combined 4-for-14. Charlie Villanueva shot well earlier in the game, but missed two wide open threes in the fourth. Bynum played at his customary 100 MPH in the fourth while everyone else seemed to be going about 45. Gordon looks completely out of sync, passing up shots he should take and taking shots he should pass up. Villanueva has essentially become a spot-up shooter at this point, which would be fine if he weren’t 7-feet tall.
Even if it was slightly uglier than most, at the end of the day the Pistons had another disjointed, passionless effort in a season full of disjointed, passionless efforts. The Pistons have now lost three straight games on a homestand that was tabbed as a make or break stretch for their playoff hopes. It’s their fourth straight home loss overall.
A few teams that aren’t good are going to make the playoffs in the East, it’s inevitable. But it’s increasingly evident the Pistons are not going to be one of those teams.