KCP’s 24 second-half points, game winner, keep Pistons unbeaten in Summer League
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
ORLANDO – Go ahead, try telling the Pistons that the game-winning triple Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drained only came in a Summer League game.
“I think it’s great. Any time you can get a key player and put him in a difficult situation and he steps up and makes a big play like that, I think it’s great,” Summer League coach Bob Beyer said of the unquestioned star of Orlando following Caldwell-Pope’s dagger with 6.6 seconds left to keep the Pistons undefeated at 3-0 with an 80-78 win over Miami. “All that’s going to do is raise his confidence level and it’s going to help him, no question about it.”
The shot gave Caldwell-Pope 26 points for the day and 82 through three games. But at halftime, he had only two points in nine minutes and his return after twisting his right ankle in the first half was in doubt. Well, not to him.
“No, that was not even a thought in my mind,” he said. “I wanted to go out and finish the game. I knew I had a bad first half, so I wanted to come back in the second half and just finish the game.”
He was 1 of 7 at halftime and picked up three early fouls. The game came easily to him over the first two Summer League wins, when he was the best player on the floor from start to finish. To be able to shake off a bad first half to dominate the second was the biggest revelation of game three.
“It is another step,” he said. “It’s about my confidence. I didn’t let the first half get to me. I didn’t let it get me down. I came back in the second half strong.”
“I’ll tell you what was impressive,” Beyer said. “He started off the game and he was struggling a little bit – you could sense that he was pressing a little bit to score the ball. But when he came back in that second half, he relaxed. He calmed down, he got his composure back and he did a great job of just playing within the offense.”
Caldwell-Pope also led the Pistons in rebounding with seven, giving him 23 in three games. He knocked down three free throws on the possession just before the game winner to pull the Pistons within two, then had the door opened for him when Miami missed two free throws with 15 seconds left. The Pistons survived a missed Shabazz Napier triple at the buzzer to get the win.
“When we were in the huddle and I was diagramming (the final play), you could just tell he wanted the ball,” Beyer said. “We had reads off of it based on how the defense was going to come at him, but to his credit he made a big-time play and a big-time shot.”
The unsung hero for the Pistons was Ian Miller, an undrafted free agent out of Florida State. With Peyton Siva sitting out the second half with a sore hamstring and Marcel Starks having left to play with Minnesota in Las Vegas, Miller scored 16 points to go with four rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes. They also got 14 points and an emergency point guard stint from DeAndre Liggins when Miller needed a brief second-half rest.
“I just think the league is made of players like that, to be able to step up and keep the pace and give a team what they need,” Miller said. “My coaches called my number today and that’s what they needed me to do.”
They might not have him for Wednesday’s game with Boston if the ankle doesn’t snap back.
“A lot is going to depend on how his ankle feels tomorrow,” Beyer said. “We’re going to be very smart about that, though, because he’s played incredibly well, hard and passionate.”