Another dominant 2nd half, another big comeback win as Pistons keep rolling
CHICAGO – If you think Dwane Casey was ready to write off Friday’s game at halftime as one of those inevitable nights that afflict every team a handful of times over the course of the 82-game season, well, you don’t know Dwane Casey.
The same resolve that saw him fight his way to a scholarship at Kentucky and earn a shot at becoming an NBA head coach is never far below the surface. And behind closed doors after a first half that saw the Pistons offer passive resistance while Chicago was romping to 66 points – and building a 21-point lead – it came spilling out in unfiltered passion.
“It was rated X,” Casey admitted after the Pistons posted their biggest comeback win of the season, a 112-104 victory over the Bulls. “You don’t want to do that and we shouldn’t have to do that this time of year. This is too special a time for our franchise. We’re worked for something special. We can rest this summer. Let’s get to the dance.”
The only dance in the first half was Chicago’s conga line to the rim. The Bulls shot 65 percent and that includes a 1 of 6 stretch to open the second quarter with five bench players on the floor. Chicago had 44 points in the paint in the first half.
The defense stiffened noticeably and immediately after Casey’s tongue lashing, but not much of the 17-point halftime deficit disappeared as the Pistons scored just 20 third-quarter points and still trailed by 11 headed to the fourth quarter.
Worse, Blake Griffin limped to the locker room four minutes into the third quarter with an apparent right knee injury. Griffin returned to the bench late in the quarter, though, and he wound up scoring 16 of his game-high 27 points in a dominant run for the Pistons. Their 43 fourth-quarter points – their highest-scoring quarter of the season – were five more than the Bulls scored in the entire second half.
Something didn’t feel right in Griffin’s right knee as he pivoted, but he said when he got checked out in the corridor outside the Pistons locker room and did some running and turning, everything felt OK.
“Nothing to be concerned about. Just kind of a little tweak, a little pinch,” he said. “But I felt fine coming back out there. Tested in the hallway and they gave me the green light and felt fine. No issues, really, for me.”
“I was concerned,” Casey admitted. “Wanted to make sure he wasn’t hurt. He said he was OK, came back and gave it to us.”
Griffin’s 16 wasn’t the only big fourth-quarter performance. Langston Galloway scored 12, including 11 in the first 3:26 as the Pistons outscored the Bulls 16-5 to tie the game at 85 on Galloway’s triple. Andre Drummond, who recorded his 11th 20-20 game with 20 points, 24 rebounds, two blocks and three steals, had eight points and nine boards in the fourth quarter. Ish Smith had five assists.
Coming off of Wednesday’s 16-point comeback win to beat Minnesota, the Pistons have now outscored the opposition 134-88 in their last two second halves.
“It’s not good to do,” Smith grimaced about spotting the opposition big leads. “But a win is a win. We buried ourselves into a hole, so we’re just trying to dig ourselves out of it. Now we’re two games over .500 and there’s still so much more for us to keep pushing, keep pressing. There’s another level.”
The win was the 11th in 13 games for the Pistons, who are 7-1 since the All-Star break. It kept them in the No. 6 playoff position, 2½ games ahead of Miami in eighth and 3½ ahead of Orlando and Charlotte, the team’s in the ninth and 10th spots. Miami, Orlando and Charlotte all won on Friday night.
The Pistons, who host the Bulls at noon on Sunday at Little Caesars Arena, had the same sort of sizzling start to the fourth quarter that turned Wednesday’s win over Minnesota into a blowout. Griffin, after getting an eight-minute rest in the third quarter while he was looked at by the medical staff, usually sits to start the fourth. But he was out with Galloway, Luke Kenanrd, Smith and Drummond, who played all 24 minutes of the second half and 43 minutes for the game. Except for a few late defensive possessions for Bruce Brown, that five played the entire quarter.
“I thought our defense picked up, which created our offense,” Casey said. “We got a rhythm with our defense and it helped our offense get a pace with it, an intensity. We were just going through mud. As much as we were screaming and yelling, we were going through mud in that first half. We finally got some traction. We found a group that was going to compete and play together and play hard. Langston was big.”
Galloway finished with 15 points and Kennard with 14, continuing his roll since the trade deadline. Reggie Jackson had 21 points despite not playing the final 15 minutes as Casey rolled with the group that sparked the comeback.
“I was looking for five fighters,” Casey said. “That’s the five we went with and it probably will be different on Sunday.”
Part of that is Casey’s confidence in everybody to contribute in some way and a nod to the selflessness that’s flowered for the Pistons as they’ve turned their season around.
“We’ve been very together,” Griffin said. “Our talk in the huddles, our talk to each other has been very, very positive. At halftime, Thon (Maker) was saying, ‘We’re going to come back and win this.’ Just somebody having that confidence and verbally putting it out there is great. You look on everybody’s faces – I think we were disappointed, frustrated – but we know we’re not out of it. I was really proud of the way guys played.”