Pistons blitzed early to start season’s longest road trip with loss at Utah

Luke Kennard came off the bench to score 18 points as the Pistons lost at Utah.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”


Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 110-79 loss to the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena

1-EARLY BLITZ – Utah has built its second-half charge on the strength of its defense, but the Jazz routed the Pistons – they narrowly avoided both their worst loss and lowest-scoring game of the season – to start their six-game road trip west thanks first to a blistering offense. Utah shot 81 percent in the first quarter and hit 6 of 9 from the 3-point line to build a 42-21 lead. It was game over at that point. The Pistons missed their first nine 3-point shots, were 2 of 16 late in the third quarter and finished 5 of 25 from the arc. Andre Drummond picked up 10 points and five rebounds in the game’s first 10 minutes, but played just 26 seconds of the second quarter in picking up his third foul. He finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Blake Griffin, averaging 28 points over the past four games, scored just 13 on 5 of 16 shooting in 29 minutes. The Pistons lost by 36 at Philadelphia on Jan. 5 and scored a season-low 78 points.

2-A WILD 180 – Utah was 19-28 when the Jazz came to Detroit on Jan. 24. Erasing a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation and winning in overtime that night launched Utah on a streak that saw them go 18-2 over the 20 games coming into Tuesday’s rematch with the Pistons. The Jazz did it with their defense. In that 20-game segment, Utah was not only the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA, they were farther ahead of Toronto – the No. 2 defense over that period – than the Raptors were ahead of the No. 15 defensive team. Stan Van Gundy said before the game that Utah’s defense gave the Jazz breathing room and winning has buoyed their confidence on offense. The Pistons scored just three points in the game’s first six possessions and already trailed by eight points. They never got any closer than four points, 11-7, after that.

3-NO BULLOCK – After being involved in a hit-and-run accident on Sunday on his way to practice, Reggie Bullock wasn’t sufficiently recovered in time to play against the Jazz. Bullock went through the offensive segment of Tuesday’s morning shootaround, then pulled out as Stan Van Gundy was about to commence the defensive portion. “I think the knee’s still bothering him,” Van Gundy said. Bullock said his knee banged into the steering wheel when struck by the car of the driver who fled the scene. Van Gundy opted to start Stanley Johnson for Bullock, preferring the matchups for Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway against Utah’s second unit. Bullock didn’t play, but he did dress and went through warmups with the team. Johnson finished with five points and hit 2 of 8 shots, while Kennard started the second half in his place and led the Pistons with 18 points, hitting 8 of 13 shots on a night the team shot just 37.5 percent.

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