The Pistons got back the Jerami Grant that they had been missing.
Grant, the Pistons’ leading scorer, played for the first time since injuring his thumb on Dec. 10, and his offense gave them a needed shot in the arm.
The Pistons didn’t capitalize on Grant’s return, and they lost 111-101 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena. It’s the fifth loss in the last six games for the Pistons (12-38), who next face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.
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Grant missed 24 games because of a thumb injury, and he had a successful return, with 17 points, on 6-of-13 shooting. He made the first field goal of the game and finished the first half with a flurry, helping the Pistons control the middle quarters.
The Pelicans (19-32) rallied in the fourth quarter and grabbed the lead, behind Brandon Ingram (26 points and four assists) and Jonas Valanciunas (13 points and 13 rebounds).
BOX SCORE: Pelicans 111, Pistons 101
“We just couldn’t develop a rhythm offensively in the fourth quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Rebounding broke our backs, and that was the name of the game.”
The Pistons reveled in the return of Grant and Kelly Olynyk, who played in only two of the last 36 games, but they lost rookie Cade Cunningham to a right hip pointer. The severity of the injury is unclear, as is whether the rookie will miss any games.
The Pistons had a 15-point lead in the third quarter, and they looked to be in control entering the final period, following a basket by Killian Hayes for an 87-84 lead. They retained the four-point lead at the 9:42 mark with a basket by Isaiah Stewart (eight points and 11 rebounds).
New Orleans used a 12-3, with six points by Valanciunas and four points from Ingram to take the lead for good and to pull away in the final minutes.
The Pistons got a drive from Frank Jackson (14 points) to get within five with 2:39 left, but they scored just three points the rest of the way. The Pelicans got a free throw from Ingram, a critical 3-pointer from Troy Murphy III, and two more free throws from Ingram to boost the lead to 109-98.
Ingram drew his second technical foul, for taunting after a block on Jackson, at the 1:43 mark, but the game was well, in hand at that point.
Getting Grant back into the rhythm of the game seemed to be a priority for the Pistons, and after the first jumper in the game, he seemed to settle in and work with his teammates, not wanting to throw off the chemistry they had developed without him.
“I thought (Grant’s return) was solid,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to get into a different flow with different guys out there.”
Cory Joseph (18 points) got going with a pair of baskets midway through the quarter, Hayes scored on a give-and-go with Olynyk and Trey Lyles (nine points and four rebounds) hit a 3-pointer, pushing the Pistons ahead, 23-21. Hamidou Diallo, who moved back to the second unit after Grant’s return to the starting lineup, had 12 points, including four quick baskets early in the second quarter.
The Pistons held a slim lead, and the Pelicans surged with a turnaround by Ingram, but Grant answered with a free throw on Ingram’s first technical foul. He followed with a three-pointer for a 56-51 margin with 2:00 remaining. Grant added a pair of 3-pointers to finish the quarter and the Pistons had a 65-57 lead at halftime.
They started with a 7-0 run to open the third quarter, for their biggest lead, 72-57, but the Pelicans chipped away and got within 78-74 with 2:54 left.
Jackson answered with a 3-pointer and Diallo scored on a steal and lay-in for a nine-point advantage, but the Pistons couldn’t hold it.
“We were playing really well for the first 2 1/2 quarters, but we let up in the third quarter,” Grant said. “We have to finish like we started.”