Detroit Pistons run early with Los Angeles Clippers but falter in fourth for 131-124 loss

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons had multiple reasons to phone it in against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. They were without their leading scorer, Jerami Grant, for the third straight game. It was the second night of a back-to-back on the schedule. It was also the final game of a five-games-in-seven nights road trip with difficult matchups against the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.

Rather than fold, the Pistons (16-38) put together one of their best performances of the season. They led the game for most of the first and second quarters and held a 12-point advantage over the Western Conference contender during the third quarter.

But the Clippers overcame strong nights from Saddiq Bey and Josh Jackson, rallied in the fourth quarter and ultimately prevailed, 131-124. Ex-Piston Marcus Morris Sr. had 33 points and Paul George added 32 for the Clippers to lead all scorers. Ex-Pistons Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson scored 11 and 12 points, respectively, and Jackson also had seven assists.

The Pistons were led by Josh Jackson, who scored 26 points and blocked two shots. It was his second straight night with at least 20 points. Bey was also lights-out, finishing with 25 points (8-for-12 overall, 5-for-8 from 3) and four steals.

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Cory Joseph also had a strong performance with 18 points, 13 assists, and five rebounds, and Frank Jackson scored 16 points coming off of the bench.

Detroit got off to a hot start, making five of its first six shots in the first quarter. Jackson and Wayne Ellington both hit a pair of 3-pointers in that span. The Clippers cut the deficit to one at halftime, but the Pistons used a 26-14 third-quarter run to build their lead to 12 points midway through the quarter.

The Clippers’ hot shooting ultimately undid the Pistons. Los Angeles finished the game shooting 62.5% overall and 57.7% from 3, capped by a game-ending 21-14 run. The two teams will rematch on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena.

‘It’s Detroit West’

Sunday was a reunion of sorts for the Pistons and the numerous former Pistons on the Clippers’ roster. Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. are all playing for Los Angeles this season after being key players for the Pistons in recent seasons.

Kennard, after spending the first three years of his career with the Pistons, was traded to the Clippers last November to bring the draft pick that became Saddiq Bey to Detroit. Jackson spent nearly six seasons in Detroit, and Morris played two seasons with the Pistons.

But the Pistons connections go deeper than that. Pistons legend Chauncey Billups is in his first season as an assistant coach for the Clippers; fellow assistants Brendan O’Conner, Larry Drew and Roy Rogers are all former Pistons assistants. Clippers general manager Lawrence Frank was the Pistons’ head coach from 2011-13, and former Pistons interim coach John Loyer is currently the Clippers’ director of pro scouting.

“It’s Detroit West,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey joked before the game.

A home-heavy final stretch

The Pistons’ schedule was front-loaded this season. Sunday marked the end of their last significant road trip this season — a five-game Western Conference swing that included two back-to-back sets.

Twelve of Detroit’s remaining 18 games will be played at home. They have one more major road trip, a three-game Eastern swing on April 17-21, before returning to Little Caesars Arena for nine of their final 11 games.

It’s good news for fans who have been staying up past midnight this past week to watch the Pistons’ late starts this week. It’s bad news for fans who have been nervously watching the standings with an eye on draft lottery positioning. The Pistons own the NBA’s third-worst record, but they’ve been better at home (9-15) than on the road (7-23) this season. They compete every night and could finish  with a push that drops their lottery standing.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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