Blake sparkles in debut as Pistons sizzle from 3 in 28-point romp over Atlanta
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Spencer Dinwiddie played one of his best first quarters of the preseason, hitting 3 of 4 shots for six points, dishing three assists against no turnovers and registering both a steal and a blocked shot.
If Stan Van Gundy was using the night as a litmus test for the readiness of Steve Blake to assume backup point guard duties, Dinwiddie did all he could to make it a tough call for his coach.
Then Blake entered and stole the show.
Making his Pistons debut after missing three weeks and the first seven preseason games while recovering from a Sept. 30 concussion, Blake dished out 12 assists in 24 minutes. The Pistons scored 59 points in the two quarters he ran the team, shot better than 50 percent and knocked down 10 of 21 3-pointers.
Imagine what he might have done with two days to practice instead of the one he carried into Friday’s 115-87 win over an Atlanta team missing five key players against a Pistons team resting three starters.
“The guys were great out there at making shots, getting to the right spots and making my job easy where I just had to find ’em and just play basketball,” Blake said. “It was a lot of fun and thankful I could be back out there.”
Yeah, it was preseason against a team not wanting to reveal much – the two teams open the regular season at Atlanta on Tuesday – but Van Gundy saw from Blake what he expected him to bring when he swung an under-the-radar trade for the 13-year veteran over the summer.
“Steve made a big impact tonight because everybody was on the bench talking about it – ‘Whoo, passing!’ The two things that build chemistry are guys being willing to pass the ball – and I think Steve took a big step for us tonight in that – and guys being willing to defend and all make an equal effort. If you know the guy next to you is playing hard and you know he’s unselfish, they’re going to build chemistry,” Van Gundy said.
Nobody in the Pistons locker room knows Blake better than Jodie Meeks, his teammate with the Lakers for most of two seasons. What he saw from Blake didn’t come as a surprise.
“Not at all. He came right in and made a difference,” Meeks said. “This offense is predicated on the ball moving and that’s what he does. Savvy veteran and plays smart, plays the right way and helped us out a lot tonight.”
The Pistons finished the preseason 3-5 and if there was a common characteristic in the three wins – and something that was too often absent in the five losses – it was just that type of hot-potato ball movement.
“For us to be successful this year, that’s the way it has to be,” Blake said. “We’ve got to do it together. There’s no other way to win for us. We have a few players that can do one-on-one things like that, but overall the ball has to be moving.”
“We’ve had moments in every game, but then tonight was really good,” Van Gundy said as the Pistons piled up 32 assists on 46 baskets. “And it really stood out with Steve. We had guys on back cuts. Guys will start to cut and move without the ball better if they know they’re going to get the ball. I thought it was a great model for our team.”
Van Gundy sat Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ersan Ilyasova, but all 11 players who suited up played at least 14 minutes. Stanley Johnson led the Pistons with 20 points and Meeks and Marcus Morris scored 17 each. Morris came into the game 3 of 13 from the 3-point arc in seven games, but hit 5 of 6 against the Hawks. He said he was conscious of looking for the deep shot going into the game, but the ball movement allowed him to find those shots and credited Blake with setting the tone.
“I’ve been watching Steve since I’ve been in this league and I know what kind of point guard he is, so I wasn’t surprised he was dishing it like that,” Morris said. “That’s some tape to watch any time the ball gets sticking in guys’ hands. It’s good tape to go back and watch how we moved it tonight.”
“Coach allows us to play and puts myself and my teammates in position to make plays for each other,” Blake said. “And if we play unselfishly as a team, we’ll all get a lot of open shots. We’ve got great shooters out here. It’s going to be a fun year and I look forward to it.”