The Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons had the same problem in their most recent games — they couldn’t protect a double-digit fourth-quarter lead.
Those Eastern Conference clubs will face each other in Detroit on Tuesday.
Miami began a four-game road trip by blowing a 10-point lead in the final five minutes and losing to Washington 103-100 on Saturday.
On three other occasions this month, the Heat have either lost after holding a sizable fourth-quarter advantage or barely hung on for the victory.
“I just think everybody has to grow up a little bit and realize if we want to be a really good team, we’ve got to win these games,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler said. “We got to hold onto these leads, we got to keep playing basketball the right way, keep getting stops even when we’re not making shots because that’s what’s going to win us a championship on the defensive end.”
The Wizards finished the game on a 19-6 run. The loss snapped the Heat’s four-game winning streak, which was preceded by three straight defeats.
“This league is very humbling,” Butler said. “It’s fragile and just as soon as you think you’re good and you’re high on yourself, you get hit like this. I don’t think we should have lost this game. We did. You can say we learned from it, and we’ll go to the drawing board. I’m hoping this is the last time that this happens, but I can’t guarantee that.”
What is guaranteed is that the Pistons will have their hands full trying to defend Butler. He’s averaging 30.7 points over the past three games and has shot 55 percent or better from the field in five of the past six games in which he has played. Overall, Butler is averaging 25.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
The Pistons were on all of the highlight shows Sunday night, though not for the game itself. Second-year center Isaiah Stewart suffered a facial cut that required eight stitches after the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James struck him while battling for position on a third-quarter free throw.
The infuriated Stewart had to be restrained numerous times from retaliating against James and both benches cleared. Both players were ejected.
It’s unknown whether the facial injury will jeopardize Stewart’s chances of playing on Tuesday. Starting guard Killian Hayes missed the 121-116 loss with a sprained left thumb.
The Pistons built a 17-point lead after the fracas, then got outscored 37-17 in the fourth quarter.
“His eye got cracked all the way open,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He was upset for a reason. I don’t think that James is a dirty player, but it got them going instead of continuing the momentum that we had.”
The late sag spoiled Jerami Grant’s season-high 36 points and Cade Cunningham’s first career triple double. The Pistons did not have an assist in the final 12 minutes.
“Maybe we just got bored with moving the ball, something like that,” said Cunningham, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. “Guys were confident in their own shots. I feel like that kind of took away from the ball movement. Just something to learn from and apply to the next game.”