Depleted Pistons get hurt when SVG goes to bench in loss to Magic
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
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.