Detroit — The Pistons’ struggles in the fourth quarter continued for a second straight game. After going the first 11-plus minutes in Friday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, their issues came on the defensive end, where they couldn’t slow the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Pistons built an 18-point lead in the second quarter Sunday, but the Clippers got a big hand from their three former Pistons in mounting their comeback in a 106-102 victory.
Marcus Morris Sr., Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson combined for 62 points and keyed the Clippers’ comeback, pulling ahead with a big fourth quarter, including Kennard scoring 11 of his 16 points during a critical stretch where they regained the lead.
When the Pistons got within one point with 3:06 left on a Cade Cunningham drive, Jackson answered with a 3-pointer at the 1:39 mark to push the lead to four. Morris added a jumper with 36.5 seconds remaining to give the Clippers (36-34) their largest lead of the game.
Cunningham (23 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists) scored a pair of baskets in the final minute but Morris, who had a season-high 31 points, countered with a jumper and two free throws and Jackson scored on a drive in the final stretch to put the game away.
The Pistons haven’t had many instances this season with double-digit leads in the first quarter, but as they’ve played better in recent weeks, they’ve done better with closing out games in crunch time.
They couldn’t hold the lead this time when it mattered.
“Well, that’s part of the thing, working with the lead, but then too — and these are playoff teams — but in the fourth quarter, there’s a different game,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to adjust to that physicality, with no calls, whatever it is, at that stage of the game and still be able to execute and think.
“Those are the things we have to learn, and that’s the growth of a young team. You get frustrated with it, but we have first- and second-year guys in there doing some of those things. That’s a part of our growth, making sure we amp up the physicality, execution, attention to detail, and not being loose with the basketball at that stretch of the game.”
For the second straight game, the Pistons were without some key players, as Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, Hamidou Diallo, Rodney McGruder and Frank Jackson all were out because of injuries.
The Pistons (18-50) had a 14-point lead at halftime, but the Clippers had a 31-19 margin in the third quarter to cut the lead to 72-70 entering the fourth, with back-to-back baskets by Ivica Zubac (14 points and 15 rebounds). Jackson opened the second half with a 3-pointer and a lay-in for the Clippers and Morris added nine points to set up the final stretch.
Jerami Grant (21 points and five rebounds) hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter and Marvin Bagley III (15 points and eight rebounds) had a tip-in to give the Pistons an 80-75 lead at the 10:14 mark.
Morris hit a free throw and a jumper and Terance Mann added a jumper to tie the game at 80, but Grant hit a free throw and Cunningham scored a lay-in to regain the lead.
Isaiah Hartenstein (12 points) and Kennard combined for the Clippers’ next 17 points, including three 3-pointers by Kennard. The last 3-pointer put Los Angeles ahead, 97-92 with 4:36 left.
The Clippers are more of a veteran squad, and in their road to the playoffs, they had the extra that they needed to take the win.
“Yeah, I think it kind of comes with experience, knowing what to do when you have leads,” Grant said. “I think we’re learning a lot of things right now, as a young team, and I think getting the lead and keeping it is one of the things that we’re learning.”
The Pistons had one final push, with an alley-oop from Cunningham to Bagley and a drive by Cunningham, to trim the lead to one at the 3:06 mark, but Jackson’s 3-pointer proved critical, and the Clippers held on to the lead.
“It shouldn’t be hard (to keep a first-half, double-digit lead). The next step we have to take is doing that,” Cunningham said. “Championship teams do that; playoff teams do that — they keep that same focus, and they’ll do that through all four quarters. So, that’s our next step.”
In the first quarter, both teams struggled to get started, with the Pistons missing their first five shots and the Clippers going 1-of-7. The Pistons got going on a drive by Cunningham and followed with 3-pointers by Saddiq Bey (13 points and eight rebounds) and Cory Joseph (10 points, six rebounds and four assists).
The Pistons were able to build their lead to 19-7 after a lay-in by Bey, but the Clippers finished strong, with a jumper by Brandon Boston and Mann.