DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons overcame a 19-point halftime deficit for the first time in more than 30 years, beating the Memphis Grizzlies 100-93 on Tuesday night to keep their playoff hopes alive entering the final day of the NBA regular season.
The last time Detroit accomplished this feat was March 31, 1989, at Seattle, when the Pistons trailed by 23 points at halftime and won 111-108 on their way to an NBA championship. This Detroit team needed to come back to win just to control its own postseason fate entering Wednesday.
The game turned when Detroit (40-41) sat a hobbled Blake Griffin, who played just 18 minutes, scored five points and struggled to move well around the court before being confined to the bench the entire fourth quarter. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said later Griffin was available to return, but the star forward said after the game, “I wasn’t able to help us [Tuesday] and we’ll just take it day by day and see what happens.”
He added he wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to play in the regular-season finale at New York.
If the Pistons beat the Knicks on Wednesday, they’ll make the playoffs. They’ll also make the playoffs if they lose and Orlando beats Charlotte. If Charlotte wins and Detroit loses, the Pistons will miss the postseason for the third consecutive year.
To stay in the spot where they can go win-and-in, they needed point guard Ish Smith to tie a season high with 22 points and a 20-point, 17-rebound game from Andre Drummond. And they needed a comeback they hadn’t pulled off for three decades, a time when only five current Pistons were born and Griffin was 2 weeks old.
“Is that right? I didn’t know that,” Casey said. “I just knew that, the first half, you could have won a lot of money off me on that one, but second half I just saw the fire, the intensity, the togetherness, the guys on the floor. The bench was up into it. The crowd came back in and got back into it.
“I just felt that we kept chipping away and chipping away and just that intensity was enough. Our whole motto the second half was score-stop-score and kind of fell into that.”
Detroit had no choice, reaching a level of desperation after a first half that surprised Casey with how poorly his team played. The Pistons shot 31.9 percent from the field, made only 21.1 percent of their 3-pointers and allowed the Grizzlies, who were missing eight players and dressed only 10, to shoot 56.8 percent.
Memphis led by as many as 22 points, leading to multiple rounds of boos from the Little Caesars Arena crowd, as the Grizzlies continually outhustled a Detroit team that appeared to be playing with all the urgency of a midweek, midseason game instead of a game for a playoff berth in mid-April.
“We just weren’t playing hard. There was no scheme or no missed shot that could change that,” Drummond said. “We just had to play hard and the game turned around.”
Smith, who turned in one of his best outings of the season in the do-or-die game, agreed with Drummond.
“Tonight, we played with great desperation in that second half and pulled it out,” Smith said. “So that’s not the ideal way you want to do it but if it results in a win, I’m happy.”