LOS ANGELES — Defensively, the Detroit Pistons did everything they needed to do to win on Thursday. The same can’t be said on offense.
The Los Angeles Clippers scored just 96 points, the lowest total of any team the Pistons have played this season. Detroit set the tone early by playing its best defensive first quarter of the season, led by as many as 12 points, and controlled much of the first half despite being shorthanded.
But the team fell apart in the second half, as the Clippers started making shots and the Pistons, outside of Bojan Bogdanovic, couldn’t buy a bucket. They lost to the Clippers, 96-91, and fell to 3-13, worst in the NBA. They won’t get credit for a moral victory, but it was a loss they can build on.
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The Pistons will win a lot of games if they play with the defensive intensity they showed early in the game. And they’re banking on not repeating their offensive performance, as they missed several wide-open 3-pointers and were without two of their best players in Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart.
“There’s going to be nights where we look like gangbusters defensively, and nights like we’ve never seen each other defensively,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the loss. “Some nights where we’re going to be offensively big time, and then nights like tonight. But it just takes time for all of that to come together, despite injuries, despite whatever, guys being out. It will come together. We just have to stay with it, stay positive. The world’s not falling apart and continue to have joy in what we’re doing, and have passion in what we’re doing. They still have it.”
The Pistons held the Clippers to 15 points on 28.6% shooting in the first quarter — season bests in both categories. Despite missing their most versatile defender in Stewart, the Pistons did a good job agitating Los Angeles’ primary scorers. Paul George missed all five of his shots in the first period, and Norman Powell was the Clippers’ only player with more than one made bucket. The Pistons led, 23-11, late in the period.
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But the Clippers steadily found their offensive groove as the night progressed. The Pistons did not. While Bogdanovic had a strong night with 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting, the Pistons shot 37.5% overall and 19.4% from 3 (6-for-31). They missed their first 11 from beyond the arc before Bogdanovic broke the spell with 3:44 to play before halftime. The Pistons haven’t shot well from 3 this season − 29th in in the NBA at 32% − but they’re better than they were Thursday.
The Clippers were reintegrating Kawhi Leonard, who scored six points in his first game since Oct. 23, and their strong shooting in the second half was a team effort. So was the Pistons’ lack of scoring.
“Sometimes it’s like that, the ball just doesn’t go in the hoop,” Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey said. “It’s gonna be games like that. I feel like we put ourselves in a good position in the fourth quarter to keep us in the game. Sometimes shots don’t fall. Our effort was there tonight and that’s all we can ask for.”
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Ivey scored 18 points, but made just 8 of 21 shots, and Saddiq Bey finished with 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. No other Piston reached double digits.
They certainly missed Cunningham, who could return from left shin soreness Sunday at Sacramento. Even though the Pistons allowed Los Angeles to shoot 47.4% in the second half, forcing 18 turnovers and holding a team under 100 points should lead to a win.
They’ll take their effort on defense and try to marry it with a strong offensive performance against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the 3-10 Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
“We have to build on every little victory we can get,” Casey said. “Defensively was tonight. Now we gotta go back to the drawing board. You put your finger on one hole, something else opens up. Now we gotta find out how can we see open people when they’re open, timely passes on time, on target passes to help our offense. We had some great looks.
“It’s very small margin for error in those situations against a really good defensive team.”