Detroit Pistons use Jerami Grant in closing seconds of Friday’s loss

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons game came to a bizarre finish on Friday night, involving a look at the replay monitors, which took much longer than the actual events. The result was their twelfth loss in fifteen games.

The Detroit Pistons (3-12) trailed the Houston Rockets (5-9) by just one point after Blake Griffin hit a three to make the score 103-102. In the ensuing possession, the Rockets Victor Oladipo missed a three, and Griffin secured the rebound. A Detroit timeout led to an inbound pass from the sideline on their own end.

With 3.4 seconds to go, Griffin passed the ball to Jerami Grant, who backed down his defender, P.J. Tucker, to put up a layup. Unfortunately for the Pistons, the shot and any possible foul occurred after the clock expired.

Whether or not it was the play Dwane Casey drew up, it was an agonizing few moments to watch. As the precious few seconds ticked down, Grant could hardly make progress toward the basket. Although the Detroit Pistons only needed a field goal, it seemed a quick isolation from someone else might need to happen instead if the lane became shut down. Plus, this all had to be decided within three seconds.

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There was maybe time for one quick pass; here is how the rest of the court looked with such little time left. Svi Mykhailiuk, who had not touched the court until then, came in for the final play. This is because 70% of his shots come with zero dribbles, and he makes 30% of his shots from the catch-and-shoot.

Other hot shooters Wayne Ellington and Josh Jackson were also on the court, but all three players were pinned down on the court’s far side, Ellington in the corner with Svi and Jackson on the wing. Only Blake Griffin was somewhat open after inbounding, but he was deep at the top of the key.

Considering these options, the Detroit Pistons chose to go with Jerami Grant, which should actually be obvious. He is putting up All-Star caliber numbers and playing the best basketball of his career.

This was obvious to the Rockets as well, judging by how closely he was guarded, not just in the final seconds but the entire game. Grant’s first basket did not come until 5:08, remaining in the third quarter when he sank a three-pointer.

He was held to 0 for 6 in the first half, including one missed three. He still managed to get to 21 points–below his average, 25.1–by making 10 of 13 free throws. Apparently, Houston had it in mind they were going to let anyone other than Grant beat them. It nearly worked, too. Earlier in the game, the Rockets had padded a lead as high as 20, but the Pistons managed to claw back and keep it close.

As mentioned prior, Svi, Jackson, and Ellington were defended closely on the last play, so the Rockets were not allowing a catch-and-shoot. Grant did manage to draw in the defenders on his drive, but there was not enough time to find Ellington in the corner or Jackson at the elbow, so they were out of the picture.

In actuality, there were two viable options for how the final events could play out. Grant could have immediately handed the ball back to Griffin for a pull-up three while holding off two defenders. This does put Blake in an awkward position, however, where he is coming from the left but shooting from his right.

It would have been a low percentage shot, and he would not have had enough time to reverse to a driving Grant or Jackson. Grant still faked the hand-off but elected to drive to the basket.

There was a lot of contact on the final play, so the referees went to the review desk. They needed to establish two things: if the layup was made before the clock expired and if Grant was fouled first. The first answer was definitive, no; Grant clearly had the ball in his hands when the clock hit 0.0.

The second question was a little trickier, but ultimately the referees both in the arena and in New Jersey decided there was not enough contact to warrant potentially game-tying or -winning free throws. On the broadcast, George Blaha and Greg Kelser wondered if there was a shove even before that, but that was nixed as well. Game over, Pistons lose.

The call made was the right one. There was contact on the initial pass, but Jerami Grant gave as equally as he received. Then, there was a small push with half a second to go but not even enough to force Grant to change direction. Finally, the bump to halt the layup was likely a foul, but it happened just as the red light lit the backboard.

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In a game where their best player was under constant pressure, the Detroit Pistons, maybe the worst team in the NBA, hung with a Rockets team that has an outside shot of making the playoffs. If nothing else, the closing seconds of Friday’s game was emblematic of the team’s season: they may have come up short, but at least it was fun.