Depleted Pistons get hurt when SVG goes to bench in loss to Magic

Ish Smith logged a season-high 32 minutes and contributed 18 points but the Pistons lost at Orlando
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – A few weeks back, with the Pistons in the throes of a seven-game losing streak on the heels of a most encouraging 14-6 start, Stan Van Gundy put the onus on his four top players – Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson – to up their production.

“They’re our four best players,” he said. “I’m not singling them out, but the reality is we need them to play better if we’re going to get where we want to go.”

Now two of them are sidelined with injury – and Jackson won’t be seen for a healthy spell – and that means Drummond and Harris need to be All-Stars pretty much every night. They were pretty good Thursday in Orlando, but they would have needed Hall of Fame outings to overcome what the Pistons got from their bench.

Which was …

“Offensively, we got nothing off our bench,” Van Gundy said after they shot 3 of 22 and combined for 12 points in a 102-89 loss to an Orlando team that had lost nine straight and had gone 3-20 since opening 8-4.

Well, check that. The Orlando team that lost nine straight had largely done it without leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. Both returned from injury for Thursday’s game and combined for 31 points.

Just as important, perhaps, was the ripple effect of their return, strengthening Orlando’s bench and giving the Magic the edge they needed against the Pistons, who are now down three of the seven players – Jon Leuer in addition to Bradley and Jackson – Van Gundy counted on to play every night when the season opened.

The game essentially was decided in a five-minute span that bridged the third and fourth quarters. The Pistons led by a point with three minutes to go in the third quarter when Van Gundy needed to give Drummond and Ish Smith a rest. When Smith came back two minutes into the fourth quarter – a good three or four minutes earlier than Van Gundy would have preferred – the Pistons trailed by 13.

“I’ve definitely got to take responsibility for that one, just not being able to get us some good looks,” said Langston Galloway, who assumes Smith’s role as second unit point guard with Smith filling in for Jackson. “We were getting shots, but I think they were kind of rushed and made a few turnovers to start off the fourth. Just got to do a better job, continue to get better with it and, hey, next game got to be better.”

Galloway hit 1 of 9 shots and was minus-13 – the margin that separated the teams – in his 16 minutes. Stanley Johnson was 2 of 8 and both Eric Moreland and Anthony Tolliver were 0 of 2. Those four were Van Gundy’s only subs until the final two minutes when Dwight Buycks and Henry Ellenson checked in.

“I mean, 3 for 22 off the bench. That’s not going to get it done,” Van Gundy said. “We don’t need everybody to have great nights, but we can’t have that many guys have that bad a night and think we’re going to get wins.”

The Pistons put together two brilliant bursts – a 14-0 run late in the first half to wipe out a 10-point deficit and a 12-0 run in the third quarter to produce a five-point lead. But that immediately preceded Van Gundy’s move to the bench as he had run his starters hard minutes already. And when Orlando got triples from three of its bench players – Marreese Speights, D.J. Augustin and Arron Afflalo – to open the fourth quarter and a 13-point lead, it was too much to overcome for a depleted roster.

Van Gundy, though, thought the Pistons might not have been in that position if his starters had begun each half more forcefully. The Pistons gave up 33 points – 18 of them in the paint – in the first quarter. Van Gundy called a timeout less than two minutes into the game with Orlando getting a second-chance triple, a layup and a dunk on its first three possessions. The Pistons fell seven points behind in the first four minutes of the third quarter after being tied at halftime.

“It didn’t have anything to do with being without guys, to be quite honest,” Van Gundy said. “We weren’t ready to play at the beginning. Our starting lineup was not prepared to play, didn’t bring anything to the game. That group wasn’t good enough at the start of either half.”

“This is a game we should’ve won,” said Harris, who finished with 21 points – Drummond had 17 points and 18 boards – to lead all scorers. “It’s a game we’ll look back at the end of the year and be upset because this is a game we needed to have. They lost nine straight. We’ve got to expect that they were going to try to come out and break their streak. We didn’t have enough energy from the start of the game. That’s on the starters, myself included.”

There won’t be a lot of games the Pistons can say they should win while they’re without both starting guards – and there won’t be a lot of games they will win on nights they get so precious little from their bench and their starters are less than brilliant. Neither of those things happened this time around.

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 111-104 loss to the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena

1-TOO MANY TRIPLES – Did the Pistons miss Andre Drummond? Oh, sure. He probably wasn’t going to be guarding much at the 3-point line – though he might have dissuaded the penetration that led to a lot of Miami’s 34 3-point attempts – and that was the ultimate back breaker in Miami. The Heat wound up hitting 17 from the arc and given that – combined with the absence of Drummond (right rib contusion), Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer on the night they got Avery Bradley back from a seven-game absence – it was remarkable they stayed as close as they did all night. It was still tied midway through the fourth quarter and the Pistons got within three with 1:17 left, but a killer possession – an offensive rebound, another full 24 seconds and a layup with 39 seconds left – all but clinched it for Miami. The Pistons led for the majority of the first half despite a growing disparity in 3-point production. They got to halftime down four points despite being outscored from the arc 33-9, Miami going 11 of 20 in the half, making seven in the second quarter alone. Reggie Bullock (17 points) hit three triples to give the Pistons a three-point lead early in the third quarter, but Miami answered with a 12-0 run to lead by nine. The Pistons answered back with a 13-2 run to regain the lead and it was tied at 81 headed to the fourth quarter and again at 94 midway through the fourth. The Heat took the lead for good, fittingly, on a Wayne Ellington triple, Miami’s 17th – tying the most for any Pistons opponent this season. Miami got big games from Goran Dragic (24 points, 13 assists), Kelly Olynyk (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Josh Richardson (22 points, 5 of 7 triples).

2-GALLOWAY ON ICE – Langston Galloway was the odd man out of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation with Avery Bradley’s return. Luke Kennard took up minutes behind both Reggie Bullock and Bradley and Dwight Buycks – not Galloway – served as Ish Smith’s backup. Buycks, who has about 30 days remaining of his original 45 allowed as a player on a two-way contract, did enough to give Van Gundy more to think about in his use of backcourt bench players. In 17 minutes, Buycks scored 14 points on 7 of 12 shooting and had four assists with just one turnover. Galloway has been in a shooting slump of late, going 2 of 19 from the 3-point line over his past five games. Van Gundy said the Pistons detected a flaw in his form – Buycks was drifting on jump shots, especially when going to his left – but he said Tuesday that the situation at backup point guard could very well be fluid from game to game. Kennard, coming off a career-best 20 points in Saturday’s win over San Antonio, had another strong performance with 13 points, hitting 6 of 7 shots.

3-DURABLE DRE – Since missing 20 games during his rookie season with a stress reaction of the lower back, Andre Drummond had missed just two games due to injury – and three overall – in the 363 games since the start of the 2013-14 season. Drummond missed one game in his second season and one game last season due to minor injuries and sat out the season finale in 2015-16 season when Stan Van Gundy rested all five starters prior to their playoff matchup against Cleveland. He sat out Wednesday’s morning shootaround with a right rib contusion but it wasn’t until the Pistons arrived at the arena that the decision was made to sit out. Drummond has put up averages of 14.3 points and 15.2 rebounds – that both leads the league and counts as a career best for him – with 3.7 assists per game, also easily a career best. It isn’t an injury expected to keep him out for long and his resume suggests there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be the only game he misses this season. So there’s that, anyway. Without Drummond, Boban Marjanovic started and 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes. Eric Moreland played 18 minutes, going scoreless with five rebounds. Van Gundy also used Anthony Tolliver for brief interludes in each half to guard Kelly Olynyk when he played center. Without Drummond, the Pistons were outrebounded 41-35.

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