Blake sparkles in debut as Pistons sizzle from 3 in 28-point romp over Atlanta

Steve Blake dished out 12 assists in his Pistons debut in 24 minutes as they routed Atlanta
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 106-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks...

SLAM DUNK – Stan Van Gundy’s second season is off to a whole lot better start than his first. The Pistons started 0-3 last season on their way to 5-23. The second season starts with a 106-94 win over a 60-win Atlanta team that was 35-6 at home last season. The Pistons put all five starters in double figures and they outscored Atlanta 36-24 from the 3-point line, leading by as many as 19 points in the third quarter. It got a little woolly in the fourth quarter with the Hawks scrambling and gambling, but the Pistons kept getting extra possessions with offensive rebounds – they wound up with a whopping 59-40 boards edge, 23-7 on the offensive end – to keep the Hawks from chipping further away. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not only led the Pistons in scoring with 21 points, hitting 4 of 7 triples, he limited Hawks All-Star Kyle Korver to only seven points on four 3-point attempts. Andre Drummond had 11 points and six rebounds in the third quarter, when the Pistons outscored Atlanta 34-23, and finished with 18 and 19. Marcus Morris had 18 and 10 and Ersan Ilyasova 16 and seven. Reggie Jackson’s numbers weren’t dazzling – 15 points, eight boards, five assists – but he orchestrated the game efficiently and won his battle with All-Star Jeff Teague. The Pistons led 20-10 in the first quarter, but Atlanta went on a 14-0 run starting late in the quarter and led by five midway through the second. But the Pistons closed the half on a 14-4 run to lead by five. They never blinked after that. Nice way to start the season, especially with a six-game Western road swing looming after three straight home games up next.

FREE THROW – The NBA schedule will be kinder to the Pistons this season than last – when they tied Charlotte for the league lead in back-to-back sets, 22 – but it isn’t starting off that way. The Pistons opened on the road against the Eastern Conference’s reigning No. 1 seed, the 60-win Hawks, and then flew home for Wednesday’s home opener against a Utah team waiting for them after having a night off. The Pistons had eight more games last season where they were the disadvantaged team in the second night of a back to back – playing a rested team – than the reverse situation, when they were rested against a tired opponent. Only Cleveland, with nine such instances, had more last season. This season, the Pistons are a net zero, with eight instances of having the advantage and eight of being at a disadvantage. But they still are tied for the league lead in back to backs with 20. “I guess that’s going to become a Detroit tradition, to lead the league in back to backs,” Van Gundy said.

3-POINTER – It didn’t take long for Stan Van Gundy to have to think on his feet and tinker with his rotation. When Anthony Tolliver’s phone rang at 3:30 a.m., the first curveball of the season was delivered: Tolliver’s wife, Jessica, was calling to tell him their baby – Lennox Marionna Tolliver – wasn’t waiting on the NBA schedule to be born. Tolliver flew back to Detroit in time for the birth of the couple’s daughter. That meant the Pistons wound up using Marcus Morris, their starter at small forward, for significant minutes at power forward. That was an easy call because Stanley Johnson played so well at small forward. He finished with seven points in his NBA debut, scoring all seven to go with two assists and two tough offensive rebounds in 12 first-half minutes. Van Gundy used four players off his bench – Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks in the backcourt, Johnson at forward and Aron Baynes behind Andre Drummond at center.

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