AUBURN HILLS, MI — This has been a rough year for sports fans in Detroit when it comes to the local teams snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
All through the postseason, broadcasts would mention the stat that, in the 2015 regular season, teams were 616-1 when they had a five-run lead with three outs to go. For fans of the teams with the lead, it was a reassuring note. For fans of the teams that were trailing, it was a sign to hope for better things in the next game – if there was a next game.
For Tigers fans, it just hurt. They remembered July 10, when the Twins scored seven runs in the ninth, including a walk-off three-run homer by Brian Dozier, to beat the Tigers 8-6.
A week ago, Lions fans got to feel the same agony when Aaron Rodgers hit Richard Rodgers for a 60-yard Hail Mary with no time left on the clock to give the Green Bay Packers a stunning victory at Ford Field.
Wednesday night, it was time for the Pistons to step up and collapse. Leading 92-90 with the ball in the final 10 seconds, the Pistons missed three game-clinching shots, then saw Matt Barnes grab the rebound, dribble frantically up the floor and knock down a game-winner from half court – the only time the Grizzlies led in the second half.
“That’s the worst loss we’ve had since I got here,” Reggie Jackson said. “It was a good game, and we had the lead the second half until something unexplainable and unimaginable happens right at the very end.”
Even the Grizzlies acknowledged that they were lucky to win the game, given how badly they messed up their final possession. As Barnes grabbed the rebound, Memphis coach Dave Joerger started to call for a timeout, but stopped when he realized his team was already breaking down the floor.
Barnes was dribbling at top speed down the center of the floor, and when he realized he had an open shot, he let fly. The problem was that he was still at center court, and there were still three seconds left on the clock.
“I told them before Detroit’s last possession that if they missed, take four dribbles and then shoot from half court with four seconds left on the clock,” Joerger joked. “So we executed that very well.”
Barnes admitted he should’ve taken a better shot.
“It was a long rebound, so when I grabbed it and started dribbling, I knew I was ahead of almost everyone,” he said. “Reggie Jackson was back there, but he was off to the side a little. I didn’t know how much time was left, but it was open, so I shot.
“It was just a crazy, lucky shot.”
Because Barnes had shot so early, the Pistons had 1.1 seconds left on the clock. They didn’t manage to hit a shot, but they did manage to infuriate Stan Van Gundy.
Van Gundy drew up a play in the huddle – the same one he called in Washington in a similar situation – and sent the lineup out to try to salvage the game.
Steve Blake was inbounding the ball, and his first glance was toward Marcus Morris in the corner. Morris was guarded, so Blake looked back toward the top of the key where nothing was open. Finally, with the five-second limit about to expire, Blake flipped the ball to Morris, who was desperately running toward him. Morris tried to get an off-balance shot off, but missed badly as time expired.
“I told the guys that I would love to see if that play works, but we might never find out, because they refuse to run it,” a furious Van Gundy said during a very short press conference. “Just like in Washington, they broke off the play after the first option, and we ended up having to scramble off a broken set.”
Van Gundy didn’t say what was supposed to happen, but Morris said the second option was supposed to be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope popping open off an Andre Drummond screen. For some reason – Morris wasn’t sure what – that didn’t happen, angering Van Gundy.
The win would’ve been a nice bounce-back victory for the Pistons coming two days after a 20-point loss in Charlotte. Instead, it turned into a brutal home loss for a young team that expects to be fighting for one of the last Eastern Conference postseason spots.
Memphis did everything it could to blow the game – they missed three key free throws down the stretch and gave up two offensive rebounds before Barnes grabbed the ball and shot too quickly – but the Pistons still couldn’t put the game away.
So if Detroit fans seem like Grinches this Christmas, they have a pretty good reason.