Biggest comeback since the Bad Boys keeps Pistons’ playoff fate in their hands

Andre Drummond’s defensive effort helped light the fuse that enabled the Pistons to overcome a 22-point deficit to beat Memphis and keep their playoff drive moving forward
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – After 82 games, it comes to this: If the Pistons bottle the fury that drove the greatest comeback since Chuck Daly was prodding the Bad Boys and carry it with them to New York to close the season, they’ll be part of the playoff field.

On the other hand, if they play with the malaise that curiously enveloped them in digging a 22-point first-half hole – they still trailed by 15 after three quarters – the postseason will start without them this weekend.

“Why we started off like that, I don’t know the answer to that,” Dwane Casey said after the 100-93 win over Memphis – a team without eight players who at one point or another this season either started or played a significant role – to give the Pistons the chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Knicks in the regular-season finale. “I thought the second half we came out with a desperation, an upset attitude, and we ended the game that way.”

Memphis shot nearly 60 percent in the first half and 8 of 11 from the 3-point arc while the Pistons, confounded by a zone defense, shot 32 percent and hit just 4 of 19 from three. After 10 minutes of the third quarter, they still trailed by 18 points, shaving only a point off of their halftime deficit. Over the game’s last 14 minutes, they outscored the Grizzlies 43-18.

Without Blake Griffin, who went to the bench for good a little more than three minutes into the second half when it became obvious his damaged left knee rendered him immobile, the comeback began with Andre Drummond’s harassing defense.

“I made a decision to start trapping in the second half,” Drummond said. “I told coach (Sean) Sweeney, ‘I think we need to blitz them and make them speed the game up a little bit.’ They were playing a lot of zone on the other end, coming down and taking their time offensively, so we made them play our game. We made them pick the pace up and they weren’t ready for it.”

Casey coached by the seat of his pants. Without Griffin, with Thon Maker struggling defensively in the post, with his shooters struggling, he threw convention out the window and went with a four-guard lineup around Drummond. A 10-0 run in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter cut the deficit to five. Four times they tied the score, then Drummond’s free throws with 2:33 to play put the Pistons ahead for good.

Smith scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter when Kennard hit three triples and scored nine of his 15 points.

“They were unbelievable – Ish, Luke, Langston (Galloway), whoever was on the court,” Griffin said. “They deserve all the credit because they went out and got it. They’ve been big all season. It was no different tonight. They stepped up in a big way.”

The Pistons likely will need the same across-the-board contributions to beat the Knicks, similarly depleted or just plain sitting players out with their lottery fate long ago determined. Griffin demurred when asked if he expected to play, but it would be an upset if the Pistons put him out there 24 hours after it was obvious he was so seriously limited.

“I wasn’t able to help us tonight,” he said. “We’ll just take it day by day and see what happens. Assess it tomorrow with our training staff and figure it out.”

That’s where the Pistons are – get to Madison Square Garden, see who’s ready to play and pull out every stop to get the one win they need to get to the playoffs in year one of Casey’s reign. They don’t want to play with the same fire that nearly burned them beyond repair against Memphis – not before the typically raucous New York crowd against a Knicks team with no incentive to lose to better their lottery odds.

In a way, dodging the bullet against Memphis maybe releases the pressure valve on them a little, allowing them to play freely from the opening tip and playing from in front.

“We have to,” Drummond said. “We can’t predict the future. I just know that we’ll play hard and try to come out with a win.”

Casey will implore them to draw on the jumble of emotions they experienced over a wild 48 minutes in the home finale: the surreal first half, the desperation of their halftime locker room, the emotional jolt Drummond’s defense and Smith’s energy provided in a comeback for the ages.

“I just saw the fire, the intensity, the togetherness, the guys on the floor, the bench was up into it,” Casey said. “The crowd came back and got back into it. I just felt that we kept chipping away, kept chipping away. That intensity was enough. Our whole motto the second half was score, stop, score and we kind of fell into that.”

Stay in that groove at New York, they’ll fall into the playoffs – 24 hours after it appeared they were about to fall hopelessly out of them.

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