Pistons Power Past Celtics

Pistons overcome turnover troubles to hold off Boston as Jennings returns


The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – The Pistons dominated Boston inside and won their second straight home game to go to 2-1 with an 87-77 victory over the stripped-down Celtics. It wasn’t easy, though, as Boston wiped out a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to lead by two before the Pistons went on a 10-0 run. The Celtics again got within two late in the game at 79-77, but didn’t score again, the Pistons finishing with an 8-0 run. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith scored 15 points apiece and combined for 29 rebounds as the Pistons scored 54 points in the paint, including 34 of their 45 first-half points.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey, who missed more than three weeks while rehabilitating preseason injuries, returned over the weekend, Stuckey on Friday at Memphis and Jennings on Sunday. So much for breaking them in slowly. Jennings played 32 minutes, finishing with 14 points, and Stuckey played 28 minutes and scored 10 points. Both came on midway through the third quarter and didn’t come out of the game the rest of the way. Jennings had four steals and Stuckey three.

RED FLAG – Even with their backcourt fully reloaded, turnovers continued to plague the Pistons. They had 39 in their first two games with their opponents converting them into 51 points. They turned it over nine times in the third quarter alone against Boston, allowing the Celtics to cut in half their 10-point halftime deficit. The Pistons finished with 21 turnovers that accounted for 27 of Boston’s 77 points.

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Maurice Cheeks never came out and said that Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey were ticketed to be his starting backcourt. But if you read between the lines through the first week of training camp, that’s where the Pistons sure appeared to be headed.

Two nights after Stuckey returned from a 23-day absence due to a broken thumb and on the night Jennings came back off of a 25-day break to let his fractured jaw heal, it became all but official.

Neither Jennings nor Stuckey started in the 87-77 win over Boston, but both finished. They finished Boston strong, too, Jennings playing the last 17:33 and Stuckey the final 16:51 straight after entering the game midway through the third quarter. It wasn’t often pretty, except when the Pistons were pounding the ball inside to a frontcourt that again flashed signs of dominance, and they again committed way too many turnovers: 21, leading to 27 Boston points and allowing the Celtics to erase a 15-point third-quarter deficit.

But they also forced nine turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, spearheaded by Jennings and Stuckey’s backcourt pressure. Jennings had three of his four steals in the final quarter, Stuckey one of his three, and they forced three straight Boston turnovers in a critical late stretch after the Celtics – who went ahead by two points after a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter, then fell behind by eight when the Pistons ripped off 10 straight points – cut their deficit to two points. The Pistons finished the game on an 8-0 run after that.

"I’m ready to play now."

- Brandon Jennings on his return
Full game quotes

“Coach emphasizes defense, defense, defense,” said Stuckey, who scored 10 points in 27 minutes. “That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to focus on this year, being that guy that can come in there and be that stopper for our team. Brandon’s got quick hands. Whoever they put me in front of, I just try to stop ’em. That’s going to be my main goal this year.”

Jennings began the game wearing a protective mask on his face, but rid himself of it early in the fourth quarter when he scored eight of his 14 points. He also finished with four assists and three rebounds to go with his four steals.

“The thing about us,” he said, “I felt like we need to be more engaged for 48 minutes. We have lapses where we relax a little bit and let teams back in. It’s going to be important, like Chauncey (Billups) said, that we be engaged.”

Billups pulled the team together and reminded them of the sinking feeling they had after squandering a six-point lead late in Friday’s overtime loss at Memphis.

“I was telling guys in the huddle, we know how we felt on the way home from Memphis – let’s not play with that tonight,” he said.

Billups had five points in 21 minutes and Will Bynum four in 17. Cheeks didn’t say outright that Jennings and Stuckey would start eventually – perhaps even Tuesday when the Pistons host Indiana – but he at least hinted at in discussing how Jennings’ return allows him to use Bynum in the role he envisioned for him in camp, off the bench.

“We knew Brandon Jennings could play,” he said. “It was just good to see him out there and see the effect he can have on the team. He brings a little electricity to the game. The playmaking ability he has and the ability to make shots, he changed the game. He changes our makeup and it’ll put Will back in his spot where he can come in and make the plays he can make.

“I think Stuckey does the same thing. Maybe not in the electric way Brandon does, but I think the way Stuckey can defend and the way he can score the ball changes things. He had a big effect on this game tonight as well.”

And more from Cheeks, on Stuckey and Jennings as a tandem: “I like the combination of those two guys.”

If the postgame focus was on the emergence of Jennings and Stuckey, it sure didn’t start that way. The Pistons scored 22 of their 24 first-quarter points in the paint as Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith dominated the overmatched Boston frontcourt of Vitor Faverani, Brandon Bass and Gerald Wallace. They finished with 54 points in the paint and the big three all scored 15 points and combined for 29 rebounds, Monroe and Drummond posting double-doubles and Smith coming up three rebounds shy.

“That’s where we’re going to be more successful,” Jennings said. “I’ve been preaching from the beginning that we’ve got a great front line with Josh, Drummond and Monroe. It’s important we get those guys the ball.”

Stuckey, who hasn’t played with a dominant frontcourt since his early days with Ben and Rasheed Wallace up front with Tayshaun Prince, said the effect is significant.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that can score,” he said. “We’ve just got to slow it down a little bit offensively and figure each other out. We’re still not in our rhythm where we want to be. It’s only three games in. We have a long ways to go, but we like where we are right now.”