The Detroit Pistons were just 68 seconds away from winning a road game against a Western Conference opponent for the first time since March 2012. And then, just like that, they weren’t.
The Pistons coughed up a six-point lead in the final 1:08 of regulation on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, eventually falling 111-108. It was their 19th straight road loss against Western Conference competition. Their last road win against a Western team was March 14, 2012, when Detroit won at Sacramento 124-112.
That misstep in the final moments is the only thing separating Detroit from its first 3-0 start since 2008-09, which is coincidentally also the last time the Pistons made the playoffs.
The Pistons did get one happy return in Memphis and another on Sunday night back home against the Boston Celtics. Rodney Stuckey, who had been out with a broken thumb, was back on Friday and point guard Brandon Jennings made his delayed Detroit debut off the bench Sunday.
Jennings had missed the end of the preseason and the first two games of the regular campaign with a fractured jaw and he wore a mask in the first half Sunday night to protect it. He shed the protection after halftime, though, and led a Pistons surge in the fourth quarter.
Boston trailed by 10 at halftime, but the Pistons took such poor care of the ball in the third quarter—with nine turnovers—that the Celtics were able to halve the lead and trailed 63-58 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Boston opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run to take its first lead since going ahead 6-4 in the first period.
That’s where Jennings showed what he’s capable of.
He tied the game by breaking down the Celtic defense off a pick-and-roll for a layup. Then on a controlled break, Jennings zipped a pass to Kyle Singler for a layup and one as Detroit reclaimed the lead. Finally, Jennings caught his defender backing down and capped a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer.
There’s no question through the first week of play that the Pistons are better—much better—than last year’s club that went 29-53 and missed the postseason for the fourth straight season. But there’s some growing up that needs to happen in order to ensure that late leads like they held in Memphis turn into wins and so that inferior opponents such as the Celtics can’t come into The Palace of Auburn Hills and hang around after the Pistons appear to have them put away.
Here’s a quick look at the week that was:
Wednesday: Pistons 113, Wizards 102 (at Auburn Hills)
- The Good: Greg Monroe opened the season with 24 points and 16 rebounds as the new-look Pistons frontcourt dominated Washington. Chauncey Billups hit 4-of-5 from distance in his first game as a Piston since 2008. New Piston Josh Smith was 8-for-12 and Andre Drummond hit 6-of-7.
- The Bad: The Pistons surrendered 22 points off turnovers, coughing it up 18 times. Monroe had five and Smith turned it over four times, as did fill-in point guard Will Bynum.
- The Ugly: The Detroit bench provided just 23 points on 8-of-23 shooting. Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was just 4-for-12 in his NBA debut with two turnovers and went 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
Friday: Grizzlies 111, Pistons 108, OT (at Memphis)
- The Good: Rodney Stuckey returned from his broken thumb and scored 19 points in 23 minutes off the bench. Andre Drummond posted his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 16 rebounds, while also blocking two shots and nabbing three steals. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope bounced back from a rocky opener with a strong night, scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 18 minutes.
- The Bad: Detroit coughed up a six-point lead in the final 1:08 of regulation, with the dagger coming from former Piston Tayshaun Prince, who drilled a corner 3 to put the Grizzlies up five in overtime.
- The Ugly: Josh Smith scored 19 points about as inefficiently as one could do so. He was just 7-for-23 from the floor and fell in love with the jumper, hoisting 11 3-point attempts (he made just three of them).
Sunday: Pistons 87, Celtics 77 (at Auburn Hills)
- The Good: Brandon Jennings made his Pistons debut and scored 14 points with four assists and four steals. The frontcourt was consistent—Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe scored 15 points each and had 29 rebounds (12 for Drummond and 10 by Monroe).
- The Bad: Smith, Drummond and Monroe had their own little brick-a-thon at the foul line Sunday night, combining to shoot just 3-for-11 from the stripe. The Pistons were just 2-of-13 from long-range (Josh Smith was 0-for-4, as he continues to see himself as a very large, left-handed Stephen Curry) and turned the ball over 21 times.
- The Ugly: Detroit had trouble putting the Celtics away despite forcing 23 turnovers, outscoring Boston in the paint 54-38 and winning the rebounding battle 44-37. The team debuted its “Motor City” alternate jerseys Sunday night. Color me unimpressed.
The Week Ahead: The Pistons have just two games this week, both at home, with the Indiana Pacers coming to the Palace on Tuesday and the Oklahoma City Thunder coming in Friday night. That’s in advance of a four-game West Coast swing the following week.