Detroit — The Pistons had one of their better games this season in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. They played one of the top teams in the Western Conference down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter, before the Clippers pulled away.
The rematch on Wednesday was just as good.
The result was the same.
The Clippers were playing without four of their rotation players, but they stayed close, until the final period, when the Pistons found another gear, behind Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey.
The Pistons squandered a five-point lead in the final minute, with the go-ahead jumper by former Piston Reggie Jackson with 2.3 seconds left, and the Clippers pulled off a 100-98 victory at Little Caesars Arena.
Grant finished with 28 points and Bey 17 points and five rebounds, and the Pistons (16-39) looked to be on their way to a win to avenge their close loss on Sunday.
The Clippers (39-18) had a different agenda.
They were fouling Mason Plumlee on purpose late in the game to try get him to miss free throws. Plumlee made 5 of 6 from the line in the final 3:06, including the final two with 46.9 seconds left, for a 98-93 lead.
Terance Mann made a dunk to cut the lead to three and after a Pistons turnover, Jackson converted a 3-pointer to tie it at 98 with 19 seconds left. The Pistons couldn’t get anything going on the next possession and Jackson had one last try with the time winding down.
With Killian Hayes guarding him, Jackson (29 points) pulled up at the top of the circle and knocked down the jumper, giving the Clippers their first lead since early in the third quarter.
The Pistons had a 77-73 lead heading into the fourth quarter and Isaiah Stewart (12 points and eight rebounds) started it with a dunk, followed by a lay-in by DeMarcus Cousins. Wayne Ellington and Nicolas Batum traded 3-pointers and Amir Coffey hit a lay-in, but the Pistons answered with back-to-back baskets by Stewart and a 3-pointer by Bey.
Coach Dwane Casey used many of his young players down the stretch, with Killian Hayes and Frank Jackson getting most of the minutes. Casey was focused on getting experience for them instead of other options, which he said will pay off in the long run.
“I could easily take (Hayes and the young guys) out, but that’s what tonight was about — him getting that experience,” Casey said.
The Pistons’ lead got to 93-82 at the 4:50 mark after a turnaround jumper by Grant, but Mann scored another basket and Luke Kennard (17 points and 10 rebounds) made a pair of free throws.
Plumlee split a pair of free throws and Reggie Jackson made a 3-pointer to get within five, but Plumlee added two more free throws. Jackson scored on a hesitation move and drive to the basket and Ivica Zubac scored, cutting the lead to 96-93 before Plumlee made two more free throws.
The Clippers scored the final seven points of the game to move ahead and take the victory.
Casey didn’t blame the bad finish on the final minutes; it was more the poor execution throughout the game, which kept them from getting a bigger lead earlier.
“We have to find the focus and discipline to finish quarters,” Casey said.
It turned into a physical game down the stretch, with plenty of contact, but fewer whistles for foul calls, which turned the tide of the game.
In particular, it was Stewart and Cousins with a lot of the contact, and going back and forth, which made for an interesting matchup, but the officials let them play.
“It was a lot of physicality and the refs weren’t calling much,” Stewart said. “We have to meet that physicality down the stretch.”