Surging Pistons win 4th straight as Jennings scores 33 to snap Chicago hex
CHICAGO – A time-honored NBA axiom holds that it takes a good 20 games before a team figures out what it is. The standings say that after 20 games – essentially, a quarter of the NBA season – the Pistons are a .500 team. But they’re .500 with a bullet.
They won their fourth straight game on Saturday night, with two of those wins coming at Miami and Chicago. Sure, the Bulls were badly depleted – missing All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng in addition to a third starter, Jimmy Butler – but the Pistons weren’t exactly at full strength, either, playing virtually the entire game without three of their top four guards.
And the Pistons won this one in a way the Bulls surely recognized. When the game turned into hand-to-hand combat in the third quarter – for nearly seven minutes, the Pistons had scored six points, the Bulls four – it was the Pistons who imposed their will and forced the Bulls to cave, the reverse of what happened 10 days ago at The Palace when a close game ruptured via a 21-0 Chicago run.
“It was a collective unit,” Brandon Jennings said. “The whole defense really stepped up. Everybody was talking. That’s probably our best second half we’ve had all year so far.”
Jennings was pretty good, too, and he had to be. With no Will Bynum and no Chauncey Billups again, and with Rodney Stuckey going out after just 10 first-half minutes when he bumped knees, and with the frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe combining to make just 9 of 32 shots, the weight of the offense fell on Jennings’ slight shoulders.
He scored 33 points, his high as a Piston, and did it efficiently. Jennings hit 12 of 22 shots, 5 of 7 triples and all four of his free throws. He had five assists against just three turnovers despite having the ball in his hands the majority of his 42 minutes.
“He read the game well,” said Maurice Cheeks, who won in his first game as Pistons coach in his hometown, snapping a 14-game Detroit losing streak to the Bulls at the United Center. “We need him to play like this all the time. There are times – and I said this to him – he can be a little more aggressive offensively and go get shots and then there are times, Greg might have it going or Stuckey might have it going. Stuckey goes out – he’s usually the guy that makes plays for us late in the game – and he recognized we needed him to make plays and he made ’em.”
"He knows when we need to make a play. We need him to play like this and shoot the ball the way he is capable of shooting. He really helped us tonight."
- Maurice Cheeks on Brandon Jennings
Full game quotes
The Pistons held the Bulls to nine points in the third quarter, when they shot 4 of 19 and coughed the ball up seven times after just two first-half turnovers. It didn’t look like the Pistons were going to take advantage of their lock-down defense, though, until consecutive triples from Josh Harrellson and Jennings sparked an 11-0 run that gave them their first breathing room of the night at 66-52.
The Pistons held the Bulls to nine points in the third quarter – and 28 for the second half – on 4 of 19 shooting and forced seven turnovers after Chicago committed only two in the first half. But it didn’t look like their reinvigorated defensive effort was going to pay dividends because their offense was sputtering as badly as Chicago’s until the Harrellson and Jennings triples.
The Pistons came into the game 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting but made 12 of 19 against the Bulls. Harrellson gave the Pistons a huge lift with 10 points, five boards, two assists and three blocks in just 13 minutes.
“Every time he comes in, he just knows how to play the game,” Jennings said. “If he doesn’t have anything, he’s moving it. He just plays his position and he plays his role.”
“It was big,” Harrellson said of the 3-point barrage that broke the game open. “It spread the floor and spaced them out. I don’t think they ever had to deal with somebody like that, with Brandon Jennings and me setting screens. It really spaced them out and caught them off guard. It kind of got us rolling after that. It got us into a scoring mode right there.”
Cheeks didn’t turn to Harrellson until three minutes before halftime, when Drummond picked up a third foul, keeping with a rotation pattern that can vary from game to game.
“Josh was good,” he said. “Josh can step in and make threes. Josh understands how to play the game. He had three blocks tonight. Not only to make a shot, he understands when he doesn’t have a shot he knows how to take the ball to someone else, and he’s a pretty good rebounder. His threes and Brandon’s threes were pretty big.”
At the season’s quarter pole, the Pistons aren’t ready to proclaim themselves a finished product but they’re convinced that they’re on the right path.
“We’re getting there, every game,” Harrellson said. “We’re beating good teams at their places and we’re trying to find that niche. We’re coming together and doing things and everybody’s figuring out everybody’s play now, so we’re coming together a lot better.”
“I like the way we’re playing,” Cheeks said. “I think we’ve been getting better every game. Our defense has been getting better, tonight our offense was better, but I just like our flow. I just think we’ve been getting better in all phases.”