3 reasons for Detroit Pistons collapse against the Hawks

Dec 11, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23)Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23)Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

It is no secret that the Detroit Pistons’ top priority this year isn’t winning games. But they have been able to give almost every team they have played a good scare, including some upset wins over Phoenix, Boston, and Miami,.

Only one of their 11 losses this season was by more than double digits and it was against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have had Detroit’s number the past few seasons.

It appeared to be another one of those contests where the Detroit Pistons might pull off a rare victory.

The Pistons were beating the Atlanta Hawks by as much as 17 points in the fourth quarter, with a 99.1 percent chance of winning, per ESPN’s Win Probability.

That 0.9 percent chance had something to say.

The Hawks’ luck began turning for the better. Or, rather, Detroit’s deficiencies rapidly bubbled to the surface.

What once appeared like a surefire win was soon in question. The Pistons’ lead dwindled, then it vanished for good on an easy Clint Capela dunk with five seconds remaining in regulation. Tie game.

Even an early five-point overtime lead was not sustainable as Atlanta clawed back for a 123-115 comeback win.

Sure, wins aren’t necessarily the expectation. But losses like this are inexcusable. What went wrong?

1. Lack of athleticism in the paint for Detroit Pistons

Sometimes the story isn’t much deeper than what your eyes and ears are telling you.

Clint Capela, John Collins, and Onyeka Okongwu compose a much more athletic front court than any combination of Mason Plumlee, Blake Griffin (the current version), Isaiah Stewart, and Jahlil Okafor.

The Hawks outrebounded Detroit, 63-42, including a staggering 23-7 differential on the offensive glass. That qualifies as a top-98th percentile rebounding performance, per Cleaning the Glass.

Atlanta’s presence down low gave them greater time of possession, and easier shots close to the rim. Setting up defense in the half court can become second nature to these players. But scrambling and recovering after an offensive board is a different kind of effort.

Capela’s dominance — a 27-point, 26-board, five blocks performance — illustrated just how lopsided this game was on the boards. Capela’s primary defender, Plumlee, could not go tit-for-tat even on his best night.

2. Detroit Pistons foul trouble

The issues in the paint begat more problems than just extra chances at the rim.

Plumlee, in perhaps his worst performance yet as a Piston, was undisciplined defensively. Not only was he giving up offensive rebounds, but he struggled to keep his hands off his matchup.

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He fouled out with two minutes remaining in overtime, forcing a heavy-footed Okafor into the closing lineup.

Delon Wright had his hands full as well with Trae Young. Wright’s speed is simply leaden compared to Young, a perfect recipe for the Hawks guard’s bread and butter: forcing fouls off pump-fakes.

Wright overcommitted on drives and threes and fouled out with one minute to go in the fourth quarter, placing an undue burden of minutes on Derrick Rose in overtime.

Their foul ‘troubles’ surfaced on offense, too. Jerami Grant, who finished with a team-high 32 points, and their nine points in overtime, notched just seven free throw attempts, despite an aggressiveness that would have suggested more trips.

Coach Dwane Casey even remarked during his post-game press conference that Grant needs more opportunities at the charity stripe. This, however, was a dig at the referee treatment Grant has received.

Overall, Detroit committed 28 fouls to Atlanta’s 15, essentially giving away points in the game’s final minutes. The Hawks shot 12 free throws in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.

3. Troubling Detroit Pistons decision-making … from the vets

Fans have been clamoring all season for Dwane Casey to integrate the rookies and other young players into the lineup more. With a team still trying to compete, regardless of record, that’s not always the best course of action.

Casey’s steadfastness to his preferred rotation is normally shrewd, except when the problems plaguing his team are coming from the top guys.

Plumlee’s sheepishness on the glass and unruly defense were uncharacteristic.

The same goes for Wright.

Plumlee, Wright and Grant each had two shooting fouls in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, to help propel Atlanta’s comeback.

Rose’s ball-handling and shot selection have taken a considerable nosedive this season, Wednesday night being no exception. There have just been so many games where the former MVP is just killing the Pistons.

Griffin actually had one of his better games of the season, but not even his improvement could mask Detroit’s unraveling.

Saddiq Bey and Sekou Doumbouya combined for just 13 minutes of action, albeit they were held scoreless in that time. Isaiah Stewart registered a more modest 16 minutes, enough time to compile four fouls, although he was a +10 on the night.

Giving the inexperienced players more minutes may not have been conducive to maintaining the lead. But any development they could have shown, would have been more beneficial than what was on display on Wednesday.

Next. Detroit Pistons: 3 quick takes on Atlanta Hawks game. dark

No progress of any kind could be taken away from the collapse, and that could be worse than the loss itself.