Three quick observations from Friday night’s 117-111 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Little Caesars Arena
BITTER PILL – The 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor might not be a day that will live in Pistons infamy, but it won’t be very fondly remembered, at minimum. Already missing Reggie Bullock – who missed his second straight game with a left ankle sprain – in addition to Ish Smith, likely out for a month or longer with a right adductor tear, the Pistons lost a third key player, Stanley Johnson, minutes before tipoff with a sore knee. Despite all of that, the Pistons led by three points when Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond checked back into the game with 8:46 to play and made it five when Griffin – who had another big game against the 76ers, this time 31 points, twelve rebounds and six assists – quickly scored a layup. But then they went scoreless for five minutes as Philadelphia went on a 13-0 run to take an eight-point lead. The Pistons didn’t threaten that lead over the last three minutes. They scored 41 points in the second quarter, matching their high for any quarter this season, to take a 12-point halftime lead, but then managed just 43 in the second half. They led by 15 a few minutes into the third quarter and had the ball, but 30 seconds later – after a backcourt turnover, a J.J. Redick triple, a missed shot and a Jimmy Butler transition three – it was down to 9. That triggered a 20-3 76ers run to take a two-point lead. Philadelphia played without Joel Embiid, held out to rest.
LINEUP SHUFFLING – With Ish Smith unavailable, Dwane Casey made the logical move of using Jose Calderon to replace Reggie Jackson. Even if rookie Bruce Brown had been a consideration, the absence of both Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson created a critical need for Brown to provide minutes at the wing positions. The second unit needed to be completely recast with Brown starting and Johnson and Smith out of action. Casey tried to match Brown’s minutes against Jimmy Butler as much as possible. The absence of Johnson, usually at power forward with the bench unit, necessitated the use of Jon Leuer. Jose Calderon filled in as backup point guard. The bench gave the Pistons key minutes, though, despite all the reshuffling. Galloway had 12 points to lead bench scoring. Zaza Pachulia had eight pints, five rebounds and three assists. Calderon finished with seven points and two steals.
NO ANSWER – Pretty clear the 76ers have no ideal matchup to counter Blake Griffin. Griffin came into the game with a 44-point average in two games this season against Philadelphia, including a 50-point outburst in October to lead the Pistons to an overtime win. Griffin’s 28 points helped carry the Pistons through scoring droughts, especially his ability to draw fouls and get to the line. Griffin shot 12 free throws in the first half and 10 more in the third quarter. The Pistons held an 37-21 edge in foul shots and outscored the 76ers by 10 from the line. Philadelphia’s starting center, Amir Johnson, picked up five fouls before the midway point of the third quarter and fouled out with eight minutes to play. Mike Muscala, who hit three big second-half 3-point shots and finished with 18 points, picked up his fifth early in the fourth quarter. Wilson Chandler, who started the game on Griffin, also picked up four fouls. Jimmy Butler, who led the 76ers with 38 points, guarded Griffin down the stretch.