Pistons blitzed early to start season’s longest road trip with loss at Utah
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
SALT LAKE CITY – The next time Stan Van Gundy exhorts his team by pointing out dramatic in-season U-turns, he’ll have a recent example to support his contention: the Utah Jazz.
The Pistons – ironically and painfully enough – served as the launching point for Utah’s 19-2 turnaround. The Jazz were scuffling along at 19-28 when they came to Little Caesars Arena less than two months ago. The Pistons were struggling then, too, and the game was an aesthetic disaster. But with three minutes left, the Pistons opened what appeared a safe nine-point lead on a night neither team broke 100. And that game went to overtime after the Pistons squandered that nine-point lead by managing just one more point in regulation.
Since that night, the Jazz are 19-2; the Pistons are 10-15.
“They still play the same way. They still play with the same flow. They still play with the same kind of energy – but now those shots are falling and they’re playing with a little bit more confidence,” Ish Smith said after the 110-79 rout to open a six-game road trip. “You know the continuity or who you’re playing with, where they’re going to be at, so they’re playing free flowing. It’s a team that’s together and playing really well.”
How well? Well, if you’d only seen the first quarter, you’d declare the Jazz the greatest threat to Golden State’s reign. It was 42-21 after a quarter in which Utah shot a preposterous 81 percent – 17 of 21 – while making 6 of 9 from the 3-point line. The Pistons held Utah to 72 points over the final three quarters, but Van Gundy wasn’t putting much stock in that.
“That game was over after one quarter,” he said. “They came out, blitzed us, played great at both ends. Hit a lot of threes, played well defensively, turned us over a lot and when we did get shots, we couldn’t make ’em. It was just a really, really great night for them and a really, really tough night for us.”
Utah’s 42 points were the most the Pistons gave up in the first quarter all season by five. The Pistons were on the verge of suffering both their worst loss of the season and scoring their fewest points until a late 9-2 run allowed them to avoid both. They lost by 36 and scored 78 points in a Jan. 5 loss to Philadelphia, but Luke Kennard’s layup in the final 10 seconds gave the Pistons 79 points and cut their margin of defeat to 31.
But everything you needed to know about this game took place long before that in the game’s first 12 minutes.
“They made shots,” Kennard said of the dizzying first quarter. “They’re a good team. They really space the floor out pretty well. They’ve got really talented players.”
Kennard counted as a bright spot, finishing with 18 points – two off his season high, which came in a win over San Antonio – while playing 36 minutes. He started the second half at shooting guard after Stanley Johnson opened the game there in the spot usually held by Reggie Bullock. Bullock missed the game, still feeling the effects of Sunday’s hit-and-run car accident on his way to practice.
“He played well offensively tonight,” Van Gundy said of Kennard. “He didn’t play well defensively at all. We’ve got to look at that. But offensively he played well. He was aggressive, he was decisive and he did a really good job.”
Andre Drummond finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds on a night the Pistons were outrebounded 52-32 – more a product of the Pistons missing 50 shots to Utah’s 34 misses than a reflection of the effort put into rebounding.
“I didn’t think, necessarily, that our effort was awful,” Van Gundy said. “We just looked to be a step behind and they really, really sharp. They played extremely well. Then I do think we got discouraged a little bit, which wasn’t good. But I’m not going to kill our guys on effort.”