At the end of a week-long western road trip, there’s almost an expectation that the Pistons would let down. Increasing the degree of difficulty was that it was the second game of a back-to-back, against one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and without their best players.
The Pistons didn’t just stay with the Los Angeles Clippers; they played one of their best games of the season, from start to finish — even without Jerami Grant, who missed his third straight game because of knee soreness.
Even still, the Pistons hung tough until the end, but the Clippers held on for a 131-124 victory on Sunday night at Staples Center.
The Pistons (16-38) finished the road trip at 2-3, but they gave a superior effort against the Clippers (37-18), who have won 11 of their last 13 games.
“Even though we didn’t come up with a W, for a young team to go (from Portland to the Clippers), I was happy to see the response,” coach Dwane Casey said.
Josh Jackson had 26 points and four rebounds, Saddiq Bey 25 points and four steals and Cory Joseph added 18 points and 13 assists. The Pistons shared the ball well, with 33 assists, and the offense was clicking, but it wasn’t enough.
The Clippers became an offensive buzzsaw with former Piston Marcus Morris scoring 33, Paul George 32 and Ivica Zubac 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to lead the effort.
“Every guy on this team is a winner at heart. Our record doesn’t reflect how good a team we are,” Josh Jackson said. “What we want is for everybody to know they’re going to get a game when they play us.”
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons were within striking distance, tying it at 110 after a pair of free throws by Frank Jackson and a jumper by Saben Lee. Nicolas Batum hit a 3-pointer and George scored on a vicious dunk for a five-point lead.
Joseph converted a drive, but the Clippers put the game away with five straight points, with Zubac splitting a pair of free throws, George hitting two free throws and a drive by Rajon Rondo, for a 120-112 lead.
The Pistons didn’t catch up the rest of the way, as the Clippers shot 63% from the field and executed well on offense.
It wasn’t a runaway from the start, though. The Pistons hit their first four 3-pointers of the game and shot 47% (15 of 32) for the game, but they couldn’t get them to fall in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers surged.
The Pistons had a 32-24 lead with 1:06 left in the first quarter after a dunk by Bey, but George answered with a three-point play and Bey and Morris each hit a 3-pointer in the final 16 seconds to make it a 35-30 lead heading to the second quarter.
The Pistons jumped to a nine-point lead following a dunk by Frank Jackson and a 3-pointer by Isaiah Stewart, but the Clippers rallied with a jumper by former Piston Reggie Jackson (12 points and seven assists) and a 3-pointer by Nicolas Batum (14 points and nine rebounds), which ignited a 12-3 run, getting Los Angeles within 42-40.
The Clippers pulled ahead, 63-62, just before halftime with two free throws by George, but Bey had a scintillating third quarter, with 13 points. The Pistons had a 12-point lead in the third quarter, but the Clippers continued to whittle away and entered the fourth quarter trailing by only five.
The two teams next play a rematch on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena.