Detroit — All of the signs were pointing to the Pistons’ first win since Dec. 14.
Fans inside Little Caesars Arena began to celebrate their team’s resiliency to overcome a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, the period that haunted them for five straight games.
Detroit held a commanding 14-point lead over the Los Angeles Clippers with 3:34 left in regulation when Clippers coach Tyronn Lue pulled his starters, a clear sign that he was conceding the game.
However, the smiles, dancing and cheers that Pistons fans exuded midway through the third quarter until that climactic point in the game came to a drastic halt, as the Clippers’ reserves ended the fourth quarter on a shocking 14-2 run to force overtime, where they took a 143-132 victory on Monday night.
Detroit had another opportunity to send their fans home with a win in the extra period, but Los Angeles — full of life — outscored the Pistons, 14-3, in overtime to pull off one of the rarest comebacks in NBA history.
There wasn’t much to say after the game, but Pistons forward Isaiah Stewart accepted responsibility for the loss, Detroit’s sixth consecutive defeat.
“We needed to win that game right there to get our spirit back,” Stewart said. “We had it, and we didn’t finish the game out. It’s not on the coaches. I put that on us, as. We have to be better. We’re smart enough to know how to finish out a game. It’s definitely not a good gut feeling.”
According to ESPN Stats and Info, teams were 2-12,873 when trailing by at least 14 points with three minutes remaining, during the play-by-play era (since 1996-97). The Clippers were 0-417 in that scenario.
Here’s how the Clippers’ improbable comeback looked:
▶ Lue pulled Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., John Wall and Ivica Zubac from the game and inserted Moses Brown, Amir Coffey, Terrance Mann and Norman Powell when the Pistons’ lead reached 14 with 3:34 left.
▶ A defensive lapse by the Pistons led to a corner 3-pointer by Powell, who finished with 16 points off the bench. Another mental mistake allowed Coffey to throw down an open dunk to cut Detroit’s lead to 10 with 2½ minutes left. Brown then converted on a 3-point play.
▶ Pistons guard Killian Hayes, who had four turnovers in the game, gave the ball away trying to make a baseline pass to Jalen Duren, which led to a 3-pointer by Nicolas Batum, bringing the Clippers within one possession.
▶ The Clippers trailed by two points with 20 seconds left. The Pistons needed just one stop to close the game, but Mann found a sliver of space and rose for the game-tying shot to send the game into overtime.
“We just took the lead for granted,” Stewart said. “They pulled their starters out and we thought the game was over. We didn’t do a good job of finishing out the game. We have to be better at finishing out the game, especially with a team like that. If we got the lead, we have to finish the game and get the win. We can’t let them hang around and try to come back.”
Wednesday’s loss marked the first overtime defeat for the Pistons, after they had won their last two against the Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets — which marked their last win, nearly two weeks ago.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey applauded his team’s effort to battle back from their double-digit deficit in the third quarter, but he acknowledged his team’s inability to finish the job on Monday.
“We have to learn how to win,” Casey said. “We’re putting ourselves in a position to win, but it’s some of the decisions we’re making down the stretch. We gotta continue to work, press offense, shot selection, clock management. All those things, we’re learning right now and tonight it hurt. It should hurt because those guys played their hearts out to put themselves in a position to win.”
After the game, Lue credited his team’s defense, particularly his reserves for mounting the comeback.
“That’s credit to our guys staying ready,” Lue said. “Moses Brown, Amir Coffey, Terrance Mann, all came in and did a great job playing hard and playing together and playing with some urgency … In the NBA, you never know what can happen. I credit Moses and Amir for staying ready, because they didn’t play the whole game, and then to come in for the last three and a half minutes and produce the way they did was huge — and says a lot about our team. Guys are going to be ready, no matter when they’re called upon.”
Detroit will host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, a game the Pistons desperately need to win before embarking on a five-game road trip that includes the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
Monday’s collapse could serve as the boost needed to propel the young roster into the mindset needed to compete for the full 48 minutes.
“Everybody just has to point the finger at themselves, look in the mirror and see what we as individuals have to be better at,” Stewart said.