Clipped

Pistons defense again betrays them as Paul-less Clippers score 112

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – The Los Angeles Clippers, playing without offensive catalyst Chris Paul, shot 56 percent and went over 100 points with 8:19 to play in posting a 112-103 win over the Pistons, who fell to 7-14 at home. The Pistons held the Clippers to just four points in a six-minute span while cutting their deficit from 20 to nine with 2:07 to play, but couldn’t get any closer.The Clippers shot 69 percent in the second quarter when they scored 38 points and went on a 21-3 run to go from five points behind to 13 ahead. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin each had five first-half dunks. Jamal Crawford came off the bench to lead the Clippers with 26 points. Griffin finished with 25 points and Jordan with 16 points and 21 rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey played his third straight outstanding game since shaking off the effects of a painful right shoulder injury, coming off the bench to score 29 points. Stuckey scored 16 points in the first half. With Brandon Jennings struggling through a scoreless day in which he missed seven shots, Maurice Cheeks put Stuckey at point guard down the stretch as the Pistons cut their deficit by more than half. Stuckey added four rebounds and four assists. Josh Smith had 24 points and six rebounds.

RED FLAG – There’s an axiom as old as basketball: Don’t foul a jump shooter. The Pistons did so four times on Monday, including three times from the 3-point line. J.J. Redick was the shooter on all three of those occasions and he produced 11 points on just those three possessions, twice making the jump shot despite fouls from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons put the Clippers on the line much too often, committing 28 fouls as Los Angeles finished 23 of 37 from the stripe. The Pistons had eight players with at least two fouls by early in the third quarter, four with three apiece. The Clippers were in the bonus with 5:40 to play in the second quarter and with 6:38 to play in the third.


We can talk about spacing issues and the fit of Detroit’s jumbo frontcourt and yada yada yada, but at halftime of their Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee the Pistons were shooting 50 percent, had put up 53 points and should have been more than halfway to a victory.

Instead, they trailed by 11. And lost by nine. Despite scoring 103 points on a day they got a combined six from Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings yet still shot 51 percent.

Defense remains Detroit’s vexing issue. The Pistons came into Monday 26th in defensive field-goal percentage, 24th in scoring defense and 21st in defensive efficiency, a hat trick that makes a pretty compelling case that they own one of the league’s 10 worst defenses. And it’s tough to win in the NBA with a bottom-third defense unless your offense is elite.

The Clippers have an elite offense. Even without Chris Paul – who missed his eighth straight game with a shoulder injury – the Clippers continue to rack up points. They’re now 6-2 since Paul left the lineup in early January and they’d averaged 114.6 in the five previous wins with the only losses coming at San Antonio and Indiana, a combined 38-7 on their courts.

So it didn’t figure that the Pistons were going to come out of Monday’s game with improved defensive numbers. What the Clippers did to the Pistons is what they pretty much do to all but the NBA’s championship-worthy teams, Chris Paul or no Chris Paul.

The Clippers softened the Pistons up early as DeAndre Jordan dunked four times in the game’s first four minutes. Los Angeles finished with 13 dunks, but it was their second quarter – when the Clippers shot 69 percent – that they effectively won the game by outscoring the Pistons 38-25.

“At the beginning of the game, we didn’t take away nothing,” said Josh Smith, who did his best to keep the Pistons within arm’s reach, scoring 24 points on 12 of 22 shooting. “They were able to get some transition threes and some easy layups in transition and we just didn’t create resistance early on.”

The Pistons have been hurt in a variety of ways defensively – in transition, from the 3-point line and off of dribble penetration. It’s that last area that Maurice Cheeks is focused on addressing.

“We’ve got to get better on the ball,” Cheeks said. “Our perimeter defense has got to get a little bit better where guys don’t break us down as easily and get to the rim where our big guys are not helping as much. That was something that happened tonight. They pounded the ball inside to Blake (Griffin) and he did what he does. And we’ve got to do a better job of eliminating touches and pushing guys off the block a little bit more.”

"I don’t care if you’re young, old, you always can learn something."

- Josh Smith on being the fourth youngest team in the league
Full game quotes
The Clippers owned the glass, too, outrebounding the Pistons 44-30 and nearly doubling up in offensive boards, 15-8. Jordan trails Andre Drummond in offensive rebounds this season, but he closed the gap with a 9-3 edge as part of his dominant 21-rebound performance.

The offensive rebound has been a staple of Detroit’s offense all season, the Pistons leading the league with 14.5 per game. They lost the battle to the Clippers and were outscored 16-10 in second-chance points.

They were outscored even worse, 27-6, at the 3-point line with the starters missing all seven of their 3-point attempts and finishing 2 of 14. J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford both hit 3 of 5 for the Clippers with Redick notching two rare four-point plays – knocking down a triple while being fouled, in each case by rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Yet, again, the Pistons still managed to score 103 despite a lopsided shot distribution chart, further evidence that while they’ve generally managed to figure out how to score points despite their deficiencies. Smith and Rodney Stuckey, who scored a season-best 29 points, took more than half of the team’s 79 shots, though both made more than half their attempts. Monroe was just 1 of 3, Jennings 0 of 7.

“There are going to be some nights like that,” Cheeks said. “There are just going to be some nights where you get less shots, you don’t make as many shots, and tonight was one of those nights. They didn’t play well and other guys made plays, like Stuckey and Josh. They made plays and made baskets, but the other guys didn’t. … It’s a product of the game.”

The Clippers topped 100 points with more than eight minutes to play and led by 20 early in the fourth quarter. But the Pistons put together a physical, frantic six minutes of defense to pull within nine points with 2:07 to play. Over 11 Clippers possessions, they shot 2 of 11, missed two free throws and turned the ball over three times.

Yet they still finished at 56 percent for the game.

“We’ve got to be better,” said Andre Drummond, who recorded his 30th double-double of the season, second only to Kevin Love, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “We’ve got to defend our home court and got to start playing together and playing harder. It’s tough. I don’t know what it is and I can’t give you a solid answer. We’ve just got to figure it out and come together.”