Auburn Hills, Mich. • The Jazz returned to reality.
One game after receiving a much-needed spark from the additions of Devin Harris and Derrick Favors, Utah watched a fourth-quarter lead against the Detroit Pistons suddenly disappear.
So did the Jazz's victory.
Falling 120-116 Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Utah was plagued by many of the same defensive problems that plagued the team when Jerry Sloan was still the coach and Deron Williams was still in uniform. The Jazz's interior was constantly ripped apart by fleet-footed Pistons guards Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum using dribble penetration. And when Utah's defense was forced to collapse, the perimeter spread wide open. Detroit hit 64.7 percent (11 of 17) of its 3-point attempts, with Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye each shooting 4 of 5 beyond the arc.
The Jazz held a 95-88 lead with 8 minutes, 26 seconds to go. But the Pistons pounded out eight consecutive points in 1 minute, 34 seconds to pull ahead 96-95. Utah (32-28) turned the ball over five times for 10 Detroit points during the final quarter, while the Pistons hit 5 of their 6 3-point shots.
As a result, the Jazz finished 1-2 during a three-game road trip. Utah hasn't achieved more than an even split in a road journey since going 3-1 from Dec. 17-22, 2010.
"We gave 'em some wide-open looks, especially late in the game," said Harris, who recorded 17 points and dished out a game-high 12 assists in his second contest with the Jazz. "It's OK to make mistakes. But late in the game we've got to buckle down and really try to put a team away like that."
Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said that Daye a second-year reserve who scored 11 points during the fourth quarter and sank all three of his 3-point shots is a power forward who often camouflaged himself as a big guard. The Jazz moved defenders around to counter the attack.
But the switching backfired, and Utah's perimeter often appeared naked and vulnerable.
"We didn't pay close attention to detail when they made the switch. … We just didn't recognize the change," Corbin said.
The Pistons pounded away. Detroit (22-39) recorded a season high in points, including 37 during the final quarter.
Factor in that a Detroit squad engulfed in inner turmoil team leaders Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady sat out their second consecutive game after a reported protest of coach John Kuester was relying heavily on six players who each clocked at least 29 minutes during a road loss Friday to Philadelphia, and it was exactly the type of contest that the playoff-hopeful Jazz needed to nail down.
But with Utah still adjusting to the addition of Harris and Favors and the loss of Williams, everything from on-the-court communication to the consistency in the Jazz's once-potent second rotation was clearly a step off.
"We broke down a couple times defensively," said Utah guard Raja Bell, who also stressed his team's poor attention to detail. "There was a rotation late in the game that was mine, and I just kind of fell asleep on it. I think we had enough of those tonight that cost us the game."
Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds, while all five Utah starters scored at least 14 points.
But where the Jazz were refocused and in tune Friday during a win against Indiana, Millsap and Harris acknowledged that their team has much to accomplish while racing against an ever-narrowing window of time. Just 22 regular-season contests remain for Utah, which ranks fourth in the Northwest Division and is a game behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We've got to do a better job of taking care of business," Millsap said. "Just getting it done. Not making any excuses, just getting it done."
Pistons 120, Jazz 116
R In short • Utah's defense falls apart on the road.
Key stat • Detroit hits 11 of its 17 3-point attempts, while Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva each knock down 4-of-5 shots beyond the arc.
Key moment • The Pistons use an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to erase a 95-88 Utah lead.