Dam finally bursts for Pistons as they storm back in 2nd half to crush Suns

Aron Baynes helped spark a second-half turnaround in finishing with a career-high 17 rebounds as the Pistons beat Phoenix.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – It was a game the Pistons had to win but one they were in grave danger of losing. And Stan Van Gundy could see that stark realization casting a cloud over his team.

Trailing the lottery-bound and decidedly undermanned Phoenix Suns 63-53 with 6:56 left in the third quarter, Van Gundy burned his second timeout of the half.

“Everybody just take a breath,” he told them. “We’re playing hard enough defensively. Now we’ve just got to play offensively. Just play.”

Easier said than done for a team that had averaged 85 points and shot 39 percent over its past three games. And Van Gundy’s words didn’t take immediate effect. They turned it over on the next possession and saw the deficit swell to 12 when T.J. Warren drained a short jump shot.

The turnaround began 17 seconds later with a triple from a 23 percent 3-point shooter, Ish Smith, his first basket after six misfires. Jon Leuer had missed his first five shots, but he converted a three-point play on the next possession and the Pistons, finally, could take that deep breath Van Gundy advised.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a triple and then another to pull the Pistons within a point. Aron Baynes hit two free throws to close the quarter and put the Pistons ahead by two points.

Barely more than two minutes into the fourth quarter, they led by double digits. Over a span of 8:06, the Pistons – fresh off scoring 75 points in Friday’s loss to Toronto – scored 35 to go from 12 down to 11 up.

“We were trying to force things,” said Caldwell-Pope, who led the Pistons with 23 points and hit 5 of 9 from the 3-point arc. “We had wide-open shots and we just decided to drive the ball and force things. We started taking open shots and started moving the ball.”

“Pope came down, he made some shots and when he started doing that, the rim starts to look a little bit bigger for everyone,” said Baynes, who put up 13 points and career-high 17 rebounds. “That was definitely something that helped us and we needed to capitalize on that and we were able to.”

Baynes and Andre Drummond combined for 31 points and 35 rebounds.

“It’s hard to really argue with that kind of production,” Van Gundy said.

Drummond’s 18 and 18 is almost routine for him, but Baynes’ contributions often aren’t accurately reflected by the box score.

“If you really look over the last month, he’s been really good,” Van Gundy said. “His numbers weren’t great early in the year. We still played really well with him on the floor, but his numbers were not astounding. But the last month, I mean, the guy’s been terrific. Absolutely terrific.”

The win, coupled with Miami’s loss to Portland, lifted the Pistons back into the No. 8 playoff spot, tied with the Heat at 34-36 but ahead based on their 2-1 lead in the season series. The two teams meet at The Palace on March 28.

First the Pistons get four straight games on the road – all against teams currently out of the playoff picture: Brooklyn, Chicago, Orlando and New York. Does breaking out of the slump send them on the road on an offensive roll?

“That’s a tough question,” said Marcus Morris, who broke out of a deep personal shooting malaise – 4 of 28 over the past two games – with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting. “We shot the ball well. Hopefully, we continue to play the right way and continue to make baskets.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 109-95 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden

SLAM DUNK – With Reggie Jackson held out of the lineup – for rest, came official word – the Pistons’ offense surged … until it didn’t. Suffering through an offensive malaise over the past two weeks that threatened their playoff viability, the Pistons rolled up 36 points in the first quarter. But they couldn’t shake the Knicks, who shot 60 percent in the first half and took a five-point halftime lead. Then the roof collapsed. The Pistons went 13 straight possessions and more than seven minutes without a point to start the second half as the Knicks took a 20-point lead. They cut it back to 11 late in the third quarter, but another drought to open the fourth – four straight scoreless trips – and the Knicks again pushed the lead to 20. An 11-0 Pistons run pulled them back within nine with five minutes to play but that was as close as they got.The Pistons had been suffering through extreme offensive malaise over the past two weeks and Stan Van Gundy felt the lack of offense was affecting the Pistons defensively. But their improved offense didn’t seem to spark a defensive turnaround against the Knicks – though the Pistons’ offense, via the turnover, helped the Knicks get back in the game. The Pistons committed eight second-quarter turnovers that the Knicks turned into 12 points and they turned it over 20 times for the game. The Pistons have now lost seven of their past eight games since pulling even at .500 when they beat the Knicks by 20 points on March 11.

FREE THROW – The offensive nosedive over the 1-6 stretch that pushed to the Pistons to the brink in the East playoff race has been driven by an across-the-board collapse of perimeter shooting. All of the Pistons’ primary rotation players have struggled to get the ball in the basket, especially from the 3-point line. The Pistons ranked 30th in the NBA over the two-week stretch leading into Monday in 3-point shooting at an abysmal .254. They were tied for 30th in overall shooting with Atlanta, on a six-game losing streak, at .401. They were 30th in scoring at 92.0 points per game. They were the No. 11 defense over that span, though Stan Van Gundy says the defensive breakdowns in recent losses to Chicago and Orlando were almost surely the result of frustration with inept shot-making. Tobias Harris had shot 50 percent overall over the seven-game stretch, but just .222 from the 3-point line. Marcus Morris was at .325 overall and .200 from the arc; Reggie Jackson .337 and .267; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope .370 and .324; and Stanley Johnson .229 and .220. The Pistons were much better from the 3-point arc at the Garden with Morris hitting 4 of 5 in scoring 20 points and the team knocking down 9 of 23. But a few of their most important players, Harris and Caldwell-Pope, continued to flail, combining to shoot 8 of 27. They finished at .429 from the field after shooting .545 in the first half.

3-POINTER – With four games in five nights that will either push the Pistons out of the playoff race and keep hope alive, the day started with news that Reggie Bullock would miss time with a right foot sprain. Bullock was in a walking boot during the morning shootaround. X-rays were negative, Stan Van Gundy said, and Bullock couldn’t pinpoint the origin of the injury. Minus Reggie Jackson, the Pistons had to use Beno Udrih as Ish Smith’s backup. Before playing the entire fourth quarter of Friday’s loss at Orlando, Udrih had appeared in only five games – for a total of 7:17 – since Ish Smith got a night off on Jan. 13 at Utah and Udrih played 21 minutes. Udrih was effective as Smith’s backup for the season’s first 21 games while Jackson was idled with left knee tendinosis. Udrih committed a total of 19 turnovers in those 21 games, five in the season’s third game. He didn’t have more than two in any other game during that stretch. But he had five in seven first-half minutes to start the second quarter. Udrih didn’t commit a second-half turnover in six minutes, finishing with six points, three assists and three rebounds.

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