Another tough OT loss, but Pistons see signs of Griffin-Jackson flourishing
DETROIT – The Pistons made Blake Griffin their offensive focal point about five minutes after trading for him last winter. That process has been accelerated under Dwane Casey, who has funneled the offense through Griffin almost exclusively in crunch time.
Nothing is crunchier than overtime, but this time – the third overtime in nine Pistons games this season – the security blanket had been yanked from them. Griffin fouled out in the final minute of regulation with the Pistons in the midst of a comeback from 12 points down with eight minutes to play, taking his 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to the bench with him.
They wound up losing to Miami, 120-115, the fifth straight loss after opening the Casey era with four consecutive wins. But there was a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for the way the Pistons functioned without Griffin and what it might portend for their future as they try to maximize the gifts of both Griffin and Reggie Jackson as creators and finishers.
Had Glenn Robinson III – who started for the first time, replacing Stanley Johnson in the lineup to improve spacing with a more credible 3-point threat – knocked down a corner three with under 10 seconds to play and the Pistons down by a point, they might have left Litlte Caesars Arena feeling buoyant instead of frustrated and crestfallen.
“I’ll take Glenn Robinson’s look right there at the end to put us up any time of the day,” Casey said. “You can call 15 timeouts in that situation. Just looked at it. He’s wide open. He was 2 for 3 at the time. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
Robinson’s production was encouraging. Playing a season-high 30 minutes, he gave the Pistons 16 points. Andre Drummond had his fourth 20-20 performance of the season with 25 points and 24 boards and his tip-in with 0.5 seconds left forced overtime. Langston Galloway scored 21 off of the bench on a night Pistons reserves were outscored 44-25.
And Jackson, sliding back to the role he occupied before Griffin’s arrival as a ball-dominant point guard in overtime, scored seven of the team’s 10 overtime points, finishing with 25.
Griffin said he and Jackson swapped a series of texts last week after another overtime loss, at Brooklyn, as they work to strike the right balance offensively.
“It was kind of, let’s figure out four sets that we really like, me and him,” Griffin said. “At the end of the game, I think it’s going to be in his hands or my hands and we have to get into sets that not only put the team in position to score or win but ones that he’s comfortable with, ones that I’m comfortable with. The team should know it’s coming and we should still be able to score.”
Jackson has appeared at times this season to be hesitant or uncertain while he plays off of Griffin, but he started to become more assertive even before Griffin exited with six fouls.
“I thought Reggie Jackson did a good job,” Casey said. “He and Ish (Smith) both took turns down the stretch and got us in position, made good decisions. I thought Reggie did an excellent job down the stretch without Blake, who’s usually there making those decisions.”
It was Robinson who flopped to power forward in overtime with Casey using a three-guard lineup of Jackson, Smith and Galloway to go with Drummond.
“At practice, that’s why everybody knows almost every position,” he said. “I stepped in and played the four at the end and knowing those plays is important. A guy like B.G. goes out of the game definitely hurts you, but I thought that we did a good job of maintaining and sticking in that game.”
The Pistons committed 20 turnovers, continuing a recent trend, and while the 3-point shooting was better than it’s been – the Pistons were 29th in the league entering the game – it still wasn’t good at 31 percent. The Pistons clearly miss the punch that Reggie Bullock (ankle sprain) and Luke Kennard (shoulder separation) provide, shooting that could atone for the ragged edges as the Pistons learn how to concoct an offense in which Griffin and Jackson can simultaneously thrive.
On that last front, Griffin remains upbeat. One of his texts to Jackson read, “We’re going to figure this out.” They showed real signs of doing so despite Monday’s wrenching loss.