Net Gain

Pistons hang on to grab critical win after 67-point half buries Nets


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

WHITE HOT – The Pistons won a game that came up just short of “must-win” status, taking a 29-point lead in the third quarter and rolling past the Brooklyn Nets, a team two spots ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. Brooklyn cut the lead to nine with just over a minute to play as the Pistons, after scoring 96 points in the first three quarters, stagnated in the fourth despite winning 111-95. Brandon Jennings came up one assist shy of a triple-double (26 points, 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond finished with 16 points and 22 rebounds. The Pistons opened a 23-point halftime lead by rolling up 67 points on 62 percent shooting with 40 points in the paint and 20 in transition.

BLUE COLLAR – Chauncey Billups hadn’t played in nearly a month, on the mend with a nagging case of knee tendinitis. He replaced Will Bynum in the rotation and had some nice moments in limited minutes, banking in a trademark leaning jump shot and threading the needle for an Andre Drummond dunk. Beyond his numbers, though, Billups’ poise in chaotic moments would provide a huge boost for the Pistons over the season’s final 33 games if his body allows him to play a consistent role. He finished with two points and two assists in nine minutes.

RED FLAG – Josh Harrellson had an MRI that revealed a small meniscus tear in his left knee, which he injured in last week’s win over Philadelphia. Harrellson dressed but didn’t play in losses at Miami and Orlando this week. He’ll rest and undergo rehabilitation under strength coach Arnie Kander’s supervision for the time being. There’s no timetable on his return. Harrellson has played more than the pool of players who’ve had chances at securing the No. 4 big man role in the rotation behind Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith – Jonas Jerebko, Gigi Datome and Charlie Villanueva were others in the mix – and had provided the most consistent 3-point shooting of the group.

The Pistons clinched their season series with Brooklyn, making it 3-for-3 against the Nets. If it comes to a tiebreaker for the final playoff spot, they’ll have that in their back pocket. Now let’s see if they get to make use of it.

They came into the game four back of the Nets in the loss column and one behind Charlotte for the last playoff spot in the East. They’ll have to leapfrog at least one of them to make the playoffs and they took the court with exactly that sense of urgency Friday, rolling up 67 first-half points and expanding the lead to 29 late in the third quarter.

“Hang on” should not have been part of the storyline, but it was. Protecting fourth-quarter leads has been troublesome for the Pistons much of the season and it was again. Up 29 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Pistons were outscored 21-6 over the next 11 minutes. The Nets got as close as nine with 1:19 to play before the Pistons closed on a 7-0 run to win 111-95.

“It’s a little worrisome to make the same mistakes all the time,” said Chauncey Billups, part of the good news as he played for the first time since Jan. 10 due to a knee injury. “We are young and we do have some inexperience in this locker room, but at some point when you go through something two or three times, you’ve got to learn something from it. Sometimes we do. We’re just a little inconsistent with it, which is another theme of a young team.”

"What was great to see is we didn’t totally crash. We fought through it..."

- Kyle Singler on finishing the game
Full game quotes
Those young legs made the veteran Nets look very old and very slow in a blur of a first half. The Pistons scored 67 points, shot 62 percent and exceeded their season average of 17 fast-break points – which is second only to Phoenix – with 20, also scoring 40 points in the paint.

“We were able to push the ball,” Mo Cheeks said. “I thought that was the difference for us, pushing the ball and getting easy baskets, particularly in the first half.”

“We just got out on the break,” said Kyle Singler, who made his second straight start at shooting guard and has hit 6 of 9 3-point attempts in those games. “I think we got a couple of steals, so it was on the defensive end that spurred our break and we were able to get a lot of fast-break points, which helped.”

Here’s what else helped: Andre Drummond’s career-best 22 rebounds to go with 16 points. His last career high in rebounds, 20, lasted all of two weeks as the 20-year-old’s remarkable growth spurt continues.

“He’s a load out there and it’s tough to game plan for him with his activity and being so strong and explosive,” Billups said. “I’ve been on his behind defensively. I think he should be a better one-on-one defender. I’ve been riding him about that, but the kid is on his way to greatness if he keeps on working.”

A month or so ago, Cheeks ruminated about being mindful of Drummond’s minutes, worrying that a workload unprecedented for him was taking a toll. He logged a game-high 40 minutes on Friday with Greg Monroe (12 points, seven boards) in rare foul trouble and Josh Smith (23 points, eight boards, seven assists, four blocks) twisting an ankle that forced him to the bench with 10 minutes to play.

“He’s been energetic,” Cheeks said. “We’ve been talking about trying to use him wisely, but he’s been energetic. Obviously, getting 22 rebounds and running the floor and blocking a few more shots, it just looked like he got a second wind, just running the floor well and being around that rim.”

Drummond dominated his matchup with Nets starter Andray Blatche (eight points, four boards) that Nets coach Jason Kidd turned more to athletic rookie Mason Plumlee, who along with Jason Terry (18 points, 6 of 9 triples) and Reggie Evans led Brooklyn’s comeback. But the Pistons’ 57-40 rebounding edge, transition advantage (28-16) and unusual success from the 3-point arc (9 of 17) overcame their 23 turnovers and fourth-quarter stagnation.

Rodney Stuckey made three or four big plays to prevent Brooklyn from continuing to erode their lead, too, including a steal and layup that ended a 15-2 Nets run and long Pistons drought with six minutes to play, a feed to Drummond for a layup with three minutes left and a jump shot with the Nets down 10 with 1:40 to play.

“We were bleeding at that time and we needed those,” Cheeks said. “We didn’t continue pushing the ball in the fourth quarter because they started making shots. Once they started making shots, it slowed us down a little bit. We got the ball to Stuckey and he made two big buckets for us.”

The Nets had been 14-10 since the Pistons beat them at The Palace in December. Friday’s win starts a stretch of five straight at home for the Pistons.

“It’s only one game, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Singler said. “We did beat a good team. Brooklyn’s been playing well. I don’t know if they played up to their standards tonight, but we put forth a good enough effort and it’s good to get a win tonight, for sure.”