A 7-0 closing kick carries Pistons over Knicks in back-and-forth tussle

Reggie Bullock had a big blocked shot in the final seconds and the Pistons came back to beat the Knicks
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The last two pieces Stan Van Gundy added to his roster over the summer were Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver. He liked the qualities they brought and believed they’d make this the deepest of his four Pistons teams. He probably never imagined they’d wind up in the same starting lineup.

But it wasn’t the fact that Bullock and Tolliver started Friday’s 104-101 win over New York but the way they finished that was the story of this win.

They were matched up on New York’s two best offensive players, Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee, for the critical final possession with the Pistons – who trailed by four with 1:48 to play – holding a three-point lead. Tolliver was on Porzingis, who’d scored 29 points but needed 27 shots to that point to get there, and Bullock was on Lee, who finished with 16 points.

The Knicks went to a pick and roll and the Pistons switched – a late change in tactics by Van Gundy to prevent Porzingis from getting space to pull the trigger quickly on screens – so Tolliver found himself isolated in the center of the floor against Lee.

“We were switching all the pick and rolls, so they came into a pick and roll with Courtney and Kristaps and me and Reggie Bullock switched,” Tolliver explained. “Usually, whenever guards get a bigger guy on them – veteran guys who know what they’re doing – they usually go to a step back, pump fake to try to get you up. And me being a veteran, as well, knowing that, I just tried to stay disciplined. I still almost jumped because it’s very hard not to jump in that situation. The biggest key is staying on the ground. I was able to do that and he couldn’t get a good look and had to pass it, got deflected, the rest is history.”

It was Bullock who got his hand on the ball, perfectly playing the passing lane while not allowing Porzingis to drift too far away to get off a shot that could have forced overtime. When Porzingis finally tracked down the loose ball, he was forced into a desperation heave that didn’t come close.

The possession before that, with the Pistons nursing a one-point lead, Bullock blocked Lee’s runner at the rim to set up two Stanley Johnson free throws. And the possession before that, Bullock threw himself to the floor to grab a loose ball when the Pistons forced a tough pass in traffic from Ron Baker after Jackson’s floater tied the game at 101 with 44 seconds to play.

So three straight big defensive plays from Bullock, who came to the Pistons 2½ years ago as a throw-in to the Marcus Morris trade, known as a 3-point shooter and little else. But Van Gundy quickly came to appreciate Bullock’s more subtle contributions to offense – running the floor, moving without the ball, limiting mistakes, making quick decisions – and now he’s also come to trust his defense.

Bullock said watching the way Avery Bradley defended in training camp opened his eyes and, sure enough, it was Bradley’s spot in the lineup Bullock filled as Bradley recovers from a hip injury that Van Gundy hopes won’t sideline him much past the new year. Tolliver, who returned to the Pistons after a one-year hiatus in Sacramneto, sees a different Bullock on the defensive end than the one he remembers from two seasons ago.

“He has really stepped up his defensive intensity,” he said. “Playing defense is about your demeanor and just wanting to do it. All of us are capable athletes in this league. That’s why we’re here.”

“I thought Bullock had two good defensive plays down the stretch,” Van Gundy said. “And the last one might have even been better than the block on Courtney Lee. I thought he played really well. And he had six rebounds. Just a really, really good game.”

“In that fourth quarter, he did a really good job of getting up into the guards and making them uncomfortable,” Andre Drummond said. “When he plays like that, it makes our team very tough to score on. Reggie’s a hell of a defender. Just like Avery. He’s kind of the same player – just very, very gritty and just gets down and dirty.”

Bullock also contributed at the offense end with 14 points on just eight shots. He was one of seven Pistons in double figures – Tolliver added 12 – led by Tobias Harris, who had his best game in a while after slumping in December, finishing with 24 points. Harris got to the line 10 times and also tied a season high with five assists. Drummond was limited to seven first-half minutes by foul trouble, but finished with 18 points and 15 boards, grabbing every big rebound in the closing stretch.

And Jackson, despite starting the game shooting 1 of 9, also awakened, tying his season high with eight assists – and he should have had more. Drummond doinked two Jackson lobs off the back rim. Jackson only turned it over once and he saved his best for last, scoring seven of his 10 points in the final 2:33.

But it was a win stamped mostly by the final two pieces to Van Gundy’s roster, Bullock and Tolliver.

“We both just want to win,” Tolliver said. “We’re very selfless people and whether it be hitting shots, playing defense, diving on loose balls, taking charges, we’re both willing to do those types of things to help our team win. Hey, things have gone decent with us in the starting lineup and neither one of us cares, though. It’s not really what we care about. We care about the end result.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Friday night’s 104-101 win over the New York Knicks at Little Caesars Arena

1-BULLOCK BLOCKER – Reggie Bullock channeled Avery Bradley. Bullock, who said Bradley’s defense inspired him to play more aggressively and consistently at that end, blocked a Courtney Lee shot with 16 seconds left and the Pistons protecting a one-point lead. Stanley Johnson knocked down two free throws two seconds later and then Anthony Tolliver forced Lee to pass with less than five seconds to play to a heavily guarded Kristaps Porzingis, whose desperation three at the buzzer missed badly. The Pistons finished the game on a 7-0 scoring run after trailing 101-97. The Pistons got four straight defensive stops to end the game. The Knicks, a 2-9 road team, overcame an eight-point deficit and looked like they were heading for an impressive win after beating Boston on Thursday. They trailed most of the game and by 11 in the third quarter when they went on an 18-2 run. But the Pistons regained the lead with a strong start to the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Knicks run put them back in front. The Knicks took a four-point lead at 101-97 but the Pistons got an Andre Drummond tip-in, a stop and a Reggie Jackson runner with 44 seconds left to tie it at 101. A Knicks turnover was followed by Jackson splitting a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left, setting up Bullock’s blocked shot.

2-TOLLIVER AGAIN – Stan Van Gundy again started Anthony Tolliver, again dictated by matchups. Tolliver sparked the Pistons to a comeback win from 21 down at Madison Square Garden in October and gives the Pistons their best chance of slowing Kristaps Porzingis. It worked for three quarters, at least. Porzingis, after going 0 of 11 in his return from injury on Thursday, scored 10 of his 29 in the fourth quarter, heating up after hitting just 8 of 19 through three quarters to finish 12 of 28. Tolliver scored 12 points. Reggie Bullock again started at shooting guard in Avery Bradley’s spot and finished with 14 points. Bradley saw a specialist on Thursday in Philadelphia, but the diagnosis and the timeline remains unchanged. The good news is Bradley is feeling improvement in the right adductor strain, Van Gundy said. “They’re just going to continue the way they are. Avery feels like he’s getting better as is. Didn’t want to do anything more invasive and feels a lot better right now with the treatment that’s going on and we’re hopeful we’ll have him back around the first of the year.” That would mean Bradley would miss three more games next week – home games with Indiana and San Antonio sandwiched around a trip to Orlando – for a total of seven games sidelined.

3-HOME, SWEET HOME – The Pistons and Knicks came into the game with the same record, but you’ve got to scratch a little below the surface to see that the Pistons were in a far more advantageous position. What the records don’t tell you is that the Knicks had played a whopping 20 of their first 31 games at home while the Pistons had played 17 of their 31 on the road. And the Knicks home-road splits were eye-popping: a 2-9 road record and a minus-10.6 points per game differential on the road compared to a plus-7.0 differential at home. Knicks opponents shoot .422 at Madison Square Garden but .481 in their home arenas, a gap put into perspective by the fact that .481 would be 29th in defensive field-goal percentage for all games and .422 would be No. 1. The Knicks shoot .384 from the 3-point arc at home, .333 on the road. Stan Van Gundy had his tongue in cheek when he said, “a cynical person, which I’m not, would say that the league tried to help them and build some confidence early in the year by giving them a lot of home games and giving them a chance to get going and pick up some confidence.”

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