Pistons stumble in 4th quarter as Washington roars back to win by 7
Alas, the one area where the Pistons have managed to find a hint of consistency is in their fourth-quarter ineffectiveness. They came into Monday night’s game with Washington last in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring margin at minus-2.8, then saw that number inflate to minus-3.1 as the Wizards outscored them 28-12.
That ruined a night that was on the verge of redeeming their wipeout weekend, lopsided losses at Orlando and Washington in which they trailed from wire to wire and played fourth quarters that didn’t matter either night.
This one did. The Pistons opened the first breathing space on either side late in the second quarter and led by 10 at halftime and by nine after three quarters. The Wizards scored the last three points of the third quarter after the Pistons had taken the night’s biggest lead, 12, and then … well, it wasn’t pretty.
“Whoof,” Mo Cheeks sighed. “We had a nice game going and that fourth quarter, we just got stagnant. We didn’t keep playing the way we had played for those three quarters.”
The first half was sublime. The Pistons scored 63 points and compiled 19 assists on 25 baskets. They finished with 26 assists, two short of their season high, and shot 35 percent in the second half. They were 3 of 15 in the fourth quarter with one solitary assist, as both Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith shot 1 of 6 and the only other basket was an Andre Drummond tip-in.
“They didn’t do anything to take it away – we just stopped moving the ball like we did the first half,” said rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who benefitted from the ball movement by scoring all 17 of his points, an NBA best, before halftime. “We started turning it over a lot. We’ve got to protect the ball in the second half like we did in the first half.”
The Pistons saw their offensive rebounds decline with corresponding drama, too, from 14 in the first half to four in the second. Those weren’t unrelated categories. The ball movement they generated early got Washington’s defense moving and on its heels and created lanes that the elite rebounding frontcourt of Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe could exploit.
As they started to squeeze the ball a little tighter in the fourth quarter, they resorted to feeding Smith in the post and got very little cutting or movement around him.
“We needed to score. They continued to score and we needed the ball on the block,” Cheeks said. “We didn’t want to shoot a lot of jump shots. We wanted to get the ball on the block and we wanted to get to the foul line. That was our best chance with (Smith) or with Greg. The way they were spreading the floor, we had to go with one big and we went with Andre, and Josh becomes the focal point of being on the block.”
When the basket got smaller on the Pistons, Washington – as it did in its easy win two nights ago – became more aggressive with the increasingly confident John Wall probing to great effect. He finished with 29 points and seven assists with nine points and two assists against no turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"We have to protect the ball in the second half like we did in the first half."- Brandon Jennings on the second half
Full game quotes
“I trust Will and I trust Chauncey in the game,” Cheeks said. “It comes down to making plays in the fourth quarter and we didn’t make plays.”
The Pistons made almost no plays in another fourth quarter. Some of that, surely, is a function of their youth and the integration of key newcomers under a new coach. But some of it, just as surely, is the doubt that creeps into the collective psyche of a team that’s now experienced more than its share of fourth-quarter trauma.
“If things happen over and over and over, as that continues to come about, you’re going to have some anxiety about it,” Cheeks said. “That’s with everybody and everything. In order for it to stop, it has to happen. Whoever’s out on the floor, we have to be successful at it. Then it’s overcome.”
The Pistons get five days off before their next game. It would have been much sweeter to have held on and reflect on a win over those five days, but they’ll take the break. If nothing else, they’ll come back five days older and that much closer to the breakthrough they have faith awaits them.