Unlucky whistle clouds just how well struggling Detroit Pistons fared vs. near-playoff team

Detroit Free Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Detroit Pistons enjoyed their best shooting night in more than a month.

The ball moved freely, and the fourth quarter featured a slew of clutch 3-pointers that allowed them to keep pace with an upstart Oklahoma City Thunder team in the thick of the Western Conference play-in race without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who missed Wednesday’s game with a left ankle sprain.

But late miscues — and a handful of officiating calls that the team had gripes with after the final buzzer — led to the Pistons’ seventh-straight loss. And with just six games remaining, they are running out of chances to avoid tying a franchise record for fewest wins in a season.

A late tip-in by Thunder standout rookie Jalen Williams with less than a second remaining doomed the Pistons, 107-106. It was Detroit’s 18th loss in 19th tries, and an especially tough loss considering how the final moments played out. Jaden Ivey, who led the team with 24 points, nine assists and a career high-tying five made 3-pointers, fouled out with a minute and 48 seconds remaining thanks to a charge by Thunder rookie center Jaylin Williams.

That’s not a typo — the Thunder have two rookies with very similar names. And it was poor timing for the Pistons, who were trailing, 103-100. Jaylin Williams appeared to still be establishing position when Ivey drove into him, and Dwane Casey challenged the call. The referees confirmed it.

“They ruled it, they watched it and they said it was a charge,” Casey said after the game.

But he had more questions about what happened five minutes prior. Midway through the final period, Eugene Omoruyi tipped in an airballed floater from Cory Joseph. The referees called offensive goaltending, even though the ball didn’t appear to touch the rim.

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The score at the time was 93-90. In a one-point loss, it ended up being one of the biggest calls of the night.

“(The shot) was short, and that was a huge play in a one-point game,” Casey said. “But again, those things happen in the game.”

Despite the calls, the Pistons were largely responsible for the loss. Williams’ game-winning tip-in was preceded by the Thunder winning a jump ball with 7.3 seconds left. Luguentz Dort tapped the ball to Josh Giddey, and both James Wiseman and R.J. Hampton chased the ball and defended him, putting the Pistons at a numbers disadvantage. Omoruyi failed to pick up an opposing player, and Williams was able to glide, unchecked, to the rim to tip in Giddey’s missed hook as Isaiah Livers rotated to defend Dort.

Who’s fault was the final play? The blame can be spread around. Giddey may not have needed two defenders on him. Joseph was on the opposite wing defending Aaron Wiggins, a 37.4% 3-point shooter this season on limited attempts. Omoruyi got stuck toward the middle of the floor after competing with Dort for the jump ball.

It’s the second time since the trade deadline that the Pistons fell on a last-second shot, as Wendell Carter Jr. had a putback dunk as the clock expired to give the Orlando Magic a 108-106 win over Detroit on Feb. 23.

“We were down a man as far as boxing out, but we still had enough bodies on the weak side to go hit on the shot,” Casey said. “That’s really the only way they could get us. That’s the second game we’ve lost like that as far as boxing out the last second shot. We always remember that play, but there’s so many other little things that led up into that, and we have to make sure we grow from and learn from and really correct to win close games like that.”

Detroit also turned the ball over 17 times for 30 points. But the highlight of the night was the Pistons’ performance from 3. They hit 16 of 31 attempts, giving them their highest tally of 3-pointers since the Magic loss on Feb. 23.

Joseph gave the Pistons the lead, 106-105, with 13.5 seconds left. Prior to that with less than four minutes left, Ivey and Omoruyi hit back-to-back 3’s to tie the game at 100. Before that, Ivey, Joseph and R.J. Hampton made three-straight 3-pointers to tie the game at 89. Detroit went 6-for-8 from 3 in the final period.

Casey was pleased with the effort his team showed. The next step is figuring out how to win.

“I was proud,” Casey said. “This is one of the hardest play-in teams in the league. I thought we matched it step for step. With that there has to be concentration, focus and taking care of the ball and not having 30 points off of turnovers.

“Our shooters were down and ready to let it fly. I thought that was one of our better ball movement games in a long time to set guys up for 3s and knock them down. … It was an excellent shooting night from our guys.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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