A week that began with fireworks and an encouraging win finished with two duds on the Pistons’ three-game road trip. After dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pistons had a lopsided loss on Wednesday at Charlotte.
They finished the road trip with another blowout loss, with a familiar lull in the third quarter, falling to the Memphis Grizzlies, 118-88, on Thursday night at FedExForum.
Unlike their previous games with sluggish starts in the first quarter, the Pistons played the Grizzlies even through the first three-plus minutes, but gave up a 17-0 run, digging themselves into an all-too-familiar deficit.
The defense that led to the blowout loss against the Charlotte Hornets resurfaced on Thursday, with the Grizzlies driving and getting to the basket unabated, or simply their ball movement leading to easy shots.
“Our fuel meter was down. The energy level was down from top to bottom, guys coming off the bench and guys starting,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We cut (the lead) back, made a run a couple of times, trying to get back into it, but just ran out of gas. It really showed no shooting; everything was short.”
Saben Lee had 14 points and five assists, Cade Cunningham 12 points, five rebounds and six assists and Hamidou Diallo 12 points and six rebounds for the Pistons (7-30), who next face the Orlando Magic on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena.
The Grizzlies (26-14), who won their seventh straight game, surged early behind Ja Morant, who finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Morant had four points in the first two minutes, and he added two more baskets in their 17-0 run.
Grizzlies rookie Ziaire Williams outpaced Morant with 11 points in the first quarter, including seven straight points, all during the big run that broke the game open.
The Pistons answered with an 8-4 spurt, finishing the first quarter with a 32-18 deficit. They started the second quarter with a three-point play from Luka Garza and a pair of 3-pointers by Lee, to get within single digits, 35-27, at the 10:18 mark.
Isaiah Stewart, who had missed six games because of health and safety protocols, returned and had six points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes in his first game back. He said the Pistons were rushing through the game and not being as patient as they could have been.
“Just settling down the offense,” Stewart said. “I felt like at times, we got a few stops in a row, we’d go down and rush something up on offense. If we’re a bit more patient on offense, and we’re in that stretch getting those stops, we put ourselves in a better place.”
The Grizzlies continued to hit shots, and they got back-to-back 3-pointers from Killian Tillie and Tyus Jones, along with a drive from Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State), who finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
The Pistons got within 12 just before halftime, but Jackson and Morant each scored a basket in the final minute of the quarter and the Grizzlies had a 62-46 lead at halftime.
Memphis blew the game open with a 12-3 start to the third quarter, similar to the big run that the Pistons gave up against the Hornets, and the lead later grew to 30 after a drive by Morant, two free throws by Santi Aldama and a hook by Brandon Clark (11 points). The lead stayed in double digits the rest of the way.
“(Memphis) is a high-powered team, one of the top teams in the West,” Casey said, “so if you come out and not compete at a high level, and dig down and even though you’re a little fatigued and tired, or whatever it is, it’s going to be a tough night.”