Pistons play a full 48 minutes to drop Spurs in Loyer’s coaching debut
The Pistons played hard and they played smart, two traits that young teams often find maddeningly elusive. They were for the Pistons over the season’s first 50 games, for certain, which explains why they came into Monday’s game at 21-29 and outside the playoff field.
Make it 22-29 now and in a dead heat with Charlotte for the final Eastern Conference postseason berth, courtesy of a thorough 109-100 win over a perennial title contender, San Antonio.
They had six players in double figures after three quarters and a seventh one point away. Shots and responsibilities in general were distributed in doses appropriate with the roster’s skill sets. They played sound defense, inside and out, and the decision-making that often left Mo Cheeks with a furrowed brow left little room for criticism.
Loyer made 3-point defense a point of emphasis against San Antonio, the NBA’s No. 1 3-point shooting team, and the Spurs were not only limited to 17 attempts, they shot well below their average of nearly 40 percent by making just 5 of 17.
“Our guys really honed in on that,” Loyer said after racking up a win against Hall of Fame-bound Gregg Popovich after the Pistons elevated him to head coach following the Sunday firing of Cheeks. “When you put up on the board, ‘the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the league’ and if you don’t run some of those guys off. … I can think of Josh Smith running (Matt) Bonner off. Quite a few guys. I thought our guys followed the plan we set out for them and did a super job.”
It’s a one-game bite, but the Pistons were certainly as focused and driven as they’ve been all season, right down to players staying engaged on the bench and vocalizing encouragement and advice during play and dead balls alike.
"I told the guys today, just when we were in the locker room, I’m so proud of them."- Head coach John Loyer on the team's performance
Full game quotes
They’ve given hints of turning the corner. The win was their third straight overall and fifth in a row at The Palace, where they’re now 12-15. Their offense has been explosive of late – averaging 116.7 over the last three – and their defense showed real signs of progress against the Spurs. San Antonio wound up shooting 52 percent – Loyer subtly blamed himself, which won’t be lost on his players, for perhaps overemphasizing 3-point defense at the expense of giving up some open late 2-pointers with the game comfortably in hand – but the number of open 3-point attempts appeared greatly reduced.
“We did a great job of running them off the 3-point line and making it tough for them and having them do things they’re not used to doing,” Drummond said, “like putting the ball on the floor and attacking the paint.”
Drummond finished with 14 points, nine boards and three blocks in just 26 minutes. Loyer pulled him after he picked up a second foul early in the second quarter, but his substitutions followed a certain logic. Loyer went four deep into his bench in each half with great production from Rodney Stuckey (20 points on 13 shots) and steady contributions from Will Bynum, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jonas Jerebko.
But for a fourth-quarter stretch when the Pistons were milking the clock, knowing only a 3-point barrage would beat them, the offense flowed smoothly. Jennings took four late shots to get to 18 attempts – he finished with 21 points, six assists and zero turnovers – but seven others finished with between seven and 12 shots. The four other starters all had 10 to 12 attempts and all five scored in double figures.
“We had about seven or eight guys in double figures and when that’s clicking, we’re kind of hard to stop,” Jennings said. “As long as we keep playing fast-paced and everybody’s happy, we’ll be good.”
The offense had more movement with cutters frequently getting the ball on the move. The ball got from side to side consistently. On the final possession of the third quarter, Bynum had the ball up high with the clock under 10. He’d just made two driving layups and it appeared that would be the play again. But he cut his drive short and swung the ball to Stuckey, who probed the lane to draw defenders and swung the ball to his left, where a wide-open Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was fouled while shooting a triple.
“We had very few one-pass or one-dribble shots,” Loyer said. “I thought we played to the second side. It’s something I think we’re going to have to stress with this team, that it’s got to move from side to side, got to make that extra pass. I told them we faced, in my mind, the No. 1 team in the league that plays after the play. If we can take a page out of their book, by a fabulous coach, I hope our guys can do that.”
Loyer called it an emotional day for the players. He was honest with his team before the game, telling them they were capable of more than they were giving.
“I told them I thought we could play collectively for longer periods of time better than we have,” he said. “We had to dig deep and play together.”
“I told the guys in the locker room I was so proud of them,” he said. “I only thought there was about a three-minute period when they showed more energy, more determination than us. If you show determination, hustle for 45 of the 48 minutes, you’re going to be pretty successful. I told the guys, that was a big key.”
If they can do it 31 more nights, this season might yet wind up where the Pistons hoped it might when they gathered for training camp back in October.