Denver — This time, it wasn’t the third quarter that did the Pistons in, as has happened so many times this season. The third quarter wasn’t good, as the Denver Nuggets used a 16-point advantage to pull ahead.
Instead of folding, the Pistons had a bounce-back fourth quarter, and they erased the deficit, tying the game in the final two minutes.
The Nuggets pulled away behind MVP Nikola Jokic, taking a 117-111 victory on Sunday night at Ball Arena.
The Pistons finished their four-game road trip at 1-3, with encouraging comebacks in the last two games. They get a rematch with the Nuggets on Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Cade Cunningham had 18 points, five rebounds and eight assists and Isaiah Stewart 18 points, on 8-of-8 shooting. Cory Joseph added 18 points and six assists and Trey Lyles 18 points and five rebounds for the Pistons (11-35).
BOX SCORE: Nuggets 117, Pistons 111
They finished with 22 turnovers, and the Nuggets (24-21) took advantage for 28 points. The Pistons had two late turnovers in the final minute that helped the Nuggets put the game away.
“That’s the game. They’re a very good team — and taking nothing away from the Nuggets — but we shot ourselves in the foot,” coach Dwane Casey said. “You give them 22 turnovers — whether it’s moving screens, stepping out of bounds, just things we can control — for 28 points. It was encouraging, the way we played with intensity, the way we executed.”
The Pistons trailed, 92-76, entering the fourth quarter and opened with a 14-5 run, with a pair of three-point plays by Lyles and a 3-pointer by Killian Hayes (eight points and five assists), who returned from a hip contusion after missing two games.
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The Nuggets kept the lead until the final two-plus minutes, with a 3-pointer by Bey and a leaner by Joseph to tie it at 109 at the 1:45 mark. At that point, the Pistons had a 33-17 advantage in the fourth quarter, with momentum heading down the stretch.
But Jokic (34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) scored on a putback and Joseph answered with another lay-in to tie it at 1:11 with 1:19 remaining. Jokic was fouled and made both free throws and the Pistons had a turnover.
“To build our program the way we want to build it, we’ve got to value the ball,” Casey said. “Right now, we’re not valuing the ball. Those add up. We’ve got to take every play as if it’s the last play of the game. Until we grow up and do that, we’re going to be sad a lot this year.”
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The Pistons have had several games this season where they fell into a double-digit deficit in the third quarter and didn’t push back to make it a game in the fourth quarter. That’s one of the takeaways that they’re noting in the last two games of the road trip.
It’s about staying close and figuring out ways to stay focused down the stretch.
“It’s fighting back, but when we put ourselves in the hole, how are we going to react?” said Stewart, who was 8-of-8 from the field. “Are we going to continue to let them score, or continue to play to play defense and get great shots on the offensive end?”
The Pistons tied it at 60 at halftime with a buzzer-beating jumper by Cunningham but the Nuggets moved ahead with a 7-0 run, with a 3-pointer by Aaron Gordon (13 points) and baskets by Monte Morris and Jokic.
The Pistons answered with a 9-3 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Cunningham, to get within 75-73. The Nuggets got back-to-back 3-pointers from Davon Reed and Facundo Campazzo, starting a 17-3 spurt to finish the quarter with a 92-76 lead.