Mostly, they’re going to have to be better between the ears and, as the Pistons themselves asserted, they’re going to have to display a lot more heart.
“There was just no effort, no fight,” Greg Monroe said, clearly upset and clearly sending a message. “It was an embarrassment. Maybe guys don’t care. Something has to change, though. This can’t continue. If you don’t want to play, just say it. This has got to stop. This is unacceptable.”
The Clippers scored a dozen more points than the Pistons had allowed in any previous game in regulation this season – they also scored three more than Atlanta managed in double overtime in December – and they did it with six minutes to spare. It was a parade of uncontested dunks and unguarded 3-pointers as the Clippers shot more than 60 percent in every quarter except the third, when they shot 58 percent.
“It was an embarrassment for us as a coaching staff and certainly an embarrassment for them as players,” Brian Hill said. “We weren’t invested in the game defensively right from the start. We had way too many breakdowns defensively and allowed them to get a lot of easy baskets. I’m extremely disappointed in our performance. I really can’t (say why) and I don’t think it was just one or two individuals. I just thought, collectively, we didn’t have the same effort defensively, we didn’t have the same focus and just didn’t take pride in individual defense.”
Hill was filling in for Lawrence Frank, still home in New Jersey at his ill wife Susan’s side, for the third straight game. He said before Sunday’s game that he didn’t anticipate Frank rejoining the Pistons at any point on the trip, which continues Monday night at Utah and wraps up Saturday at Portland.
The Pistons were never really in it Sunday, giving up the first five points and trailing by 14 late in the first quarter. Except for two points early in the second quarter when they trailed by nine, the Clippers led by double digits for all of the game’s final 39 minutes.
One of the few Clippers dunks that drew any resistance was the one that will live on in Internet infamy as far as the Pistons are concerned – DeAndre Jordan’s first-half dunk off a Chris Paul lob that swallowed Brandon Knight in its path. Hill saluted Knight for making the right play and putting his body on the line.
“Brandon did what he was supposed to do – he tried to take a foul on the play and stop the dunk,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough guys that wanted to foul around the basket and take away easy baskets. You saw them still fouling us hard with a minute, two minutes to go in the game. Brandon’s play was great.”
Jose Calderon, a relentlessly positive force for the Pistons since arriving in trade six weeks ago, showed visible frustration after one of many third-quarter dunks. He objected, though, when he was asked if the Pistons had quit.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think that’s too big of a word. I think nobody did that. I think they did a good job. No, no, I think nobody quit. Nobody is going to do it until the end of the season, for sure. If I see somebody, I will let you know and I will call him out.”
The Clippers made 2 of every 3 shots for most of the first half until missing 3 of 4 in the final seconds. That indicates the holes the Pistons sprung defensively but the offense doesn’t get a pass, either: 12 first-half turnovers produced 24 Clippers points. And a flurry of three Clippers triples in a span of less than a minute midway through the second quarter continued another recent trend of lax perimeter defense.
“We probably ended up in more switching situations tonight – and we don’t usually switch – than we have all year,” Hill said. “That’s just giving in defensively and taking shortcuts. That was just a real lack of effort and focus on our part defensively.”
The Pistons stop at longtime nemesis Utah, where they haven’t won since 2002, ought to get their attention. The Jazz slid out of the playoff field with Sunday afternoon’s Lakers win at Staples Center before the Pistons and Lakers took over, but the Jazz remain tied in the loss column with the Lakers. Then it’s on to Golden State, safely in the field, before wrapping up in Portland, which will be scratching to stay on the fringe of playoff contention and no doubt will look at a home game with the Pistons as a must-win contest.
“Everybody’s got to play for something,” Calderon said. “Everybody’s got to be ready to compete. You can have bad nights. They played good tonight. They hit all their open shots. At the end of the day, it’s about us. It’s about what we do out there, doing it for 48 minutes. We’re trying to build something. We’re trying to get better. We’ve got to work and follow the game plan – everybody, from one to 15.”