Out with a Bang
Pistons fall in last minute despite huge games from KCP, young core
OKLAHOMA CITY – Nothing that happened in the season finale could salvage the Pistons’ present, but the way it went down in Oklahoma City sure makes their future look that much more intriguing.
The two youngest Pistons, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, saw to that.
Drummond, of course, already was established as the core of the franchise’s future. Already a dominant rebounder at 20, he’s shown glimpses of a blossoming low-post game throughout the season. But the three hooks he scored over one of the league’s most sound defensive centers, Kendrick Perkins, in Wednesday’s first quarter were eye openers.
His rookie season ended four minutes prematurely, though, Drummond fouling out with 22 points and 13 rebounds. The Pistons led by six points. It became a tough-to-swallow 112-111 loss to Oklahoma City in one of the season’s most entertaining games, and if it was possible to go into an off-season with a good taste in their mouths after a dispiriting 29-win season that fell dramatically short of expectations, this game did it.
“Our guys played their hearts out and competed from the opening tip,” John Loyer said. “I feel terrible for them because they deserved to win the game. They did anything we asked them to do tonight. Some guys stepped up and made some incredible shots. They put together 48 minutes of as good a basketball as we can play.”
Nobody made more – or more incredible – shots than Caldwell-Pope. Back in the starting lineup for the first time since before the All-Star break as Rodney Stuckey sat out the finale, the last impression he gave the Pistons was revelatory. The Georgia rookie established a career high with 20 first-half points and finished with 30. He did it both with gorgeous bombs from the 3-point line and knifing drives to the basket.
“I just felt real confident to come out and give it all I’ve got,” he said. “Just go out with a bang and leave it all on the court. Going into the summer, I’m just going to get better and keep working harder.”
"Our guys played their hearts out, competed from the opening tip."
- John Loyer on the game
Full game quotes
“Quite a game,” Loyer said of Caldwell-Pope’s outing, which saw him hit 5 of 7 triples, grab six rebounds, take two steals and block a shot while playing nearly 44 minutes. “He guarded two or three different guys, was terrific in the open floor, was very, very good off the dribble and making perimeter shots. He just played a fabulous game.”
Two other members of that young core, 23-year-old Greg Monroe and second-year player Kyle Singler, also went out on a high. Monroe flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Singler scored 20 points and took just nine shots to get there.
“We played hard,” said Monroe, who put the blame on his shoulders for shooting 4 of 9 at the foul line. “One free throw, one stop, one made bucket away from coming out with the win. Of course, we would have liked to end the season on a good note. It was a loss, but I would definitely say that was a good game by everybody.”
The Thunder trailed for all of the fourth quarter – and by as many as 10 points – but went ahead with 16 seconds left on the last of Kevin Durant’s 42 points, half of them coming in the final quarter. His drive and dunk put the onus on the Pistons to win it with a bucket at the end. After a tie-up produced a jump ball with two seconds to play, Brandon Jennings shot a 30-footer at the buzzer that grazed the rim.
“He just started attacking,” Monroe said. “He didn’t settle in the fourth. Most everytying was at the rim. Once a guy that good gets in attack mode, it’s going to be tough for anyone to stop him.”
“He’s one of the top one or two players in the world,” Loyer said. “That’s what he did.”
The Thunder came into the game with ample motivation to win, needing it before the Los Angeles Clippers tipped off later at night against Portland to secure the No. 2 seed over the Clippers. They’d also lost their last two games, including an embarrassing defeat Monday at injury-depleted New Orleans. And their home crowd was at a fever pitch, understanding the implications of a loss.
It wound up as too many other Pistons games have this year, as a loss when the win was there for the taking. And even had it been a win, it wouldn’t have applied enough makeup to the dark bruises their season inflicted. But it sure served as a promising harbinger for their future, from the overwhelming power potential of Monroe and Drummond, to Singler’s sublime steadiness to the awakening of Caldwell-Pope’s vast athletic potential.
“The guys played their hearts out,” Loyer said. “We had a lot of guys play to their highest level.”