Bullock’s back, Pistons get needed room for stars to flex muscles in beating Boston

Reggie Bullock returned and scored 15 points as the Pistons snapped a six-game losing streak by knocking off the red-hot Boston Celtics
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard had spent a scant nine minutes on the court together this season – mostly because injuries had made them unavailable to play together much more frequently than that – and they weren’t together in the fourth quarter of the game that snapped the agonizing six-game losing streak.

But that’s because while they were together, they helped the Pistons build a lead that allowed Dwane Casey to field his best defensive unit down the stretch.

“It just opens up the floor so much,” Blake Griffin said after the Pistons beat Boston113-104. “You have to respect those guys from anywhere and they’re both capable of putting it on the floor, getting to the hole and making plays. It just gives us two more weapons that people have to be aware of.”

Bullock and Kennard weren’t the two stars of the game for the Pistons. You can probably guess who they were. Griffin had a game-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists and Andre Drummond put up a dominant 19 points, 20 boards, five blocks and three steals.

But those games are almost routine for them. It’s the collective efforts of the complementary Pistons that will determine where this season goes and nobody is quite so complementary to Griffin and Drummond as Bullock and Kennard – the two best perimeter shooters on the roster and likely one of the best pairs of 3-point shooters in the league. Together, they scored 25 points and his 6 of 12 3-point shots as the Pistons knocked off the league’s hottest team, snapping Boston’s eight-game winning streak.

“It spreads the floor and they’re both capable of moving the ball around and shooting the shot when they’re open,” Drummond said. “It was good to have them both back, injury free, and they played a great game tonight.”

Bullock has missed eight games this season and most of two others, spraining his left ankle twice a month apart. He went out in the first few minutes of the Dec. 3 loss to Oklahoma City that triggered the six-game losing skid and returned to beat Boston. Kennard came back in that OKC game after a 16-game absence with a separated shoulder.

The Pistons were still missing three rotation pieces – Ish Smith and Glenn Robinson III with injuries and Zaza Pachulia due to illness – but getting back Kennard, Bullock and Stanley Johnson, who missed three game with a knee injury, gave Dwane Casey his greatest depth since the Dec. 1 win over Golden State lifted the Pistons a season-high six games over .500.

Jose Calderon and Jon Leuer slid into the roles held by Smith and Pachulia with the second unit and both contributed mightily. Calderon would have gone the final 16 minutes against Boston if he hadn’t fouled out with 1:21 to play, finishing with eight assists.

“He was great – not just offensively, moving the ball, but defensively he was great,” Griffin said of Calderon, who had three steals. “He got his hands in passing lanes, got deflections and gave us a spark. When guys are contributing like that, it makes this team go.”

“Jose was doing an excellent job,” Casey said. “He was controlling the game, getting Andre in the pick and rolls, finding shooters. We didn’t make a lot of them, but he was finding them, getting us wide-open looks.”

The Pistons needed Leuer for an extended run in the first half when Drummond picked up two fouls in the game’s first six minutes. Leuer provided four points, four boards and a steal in 14 minutes.

With Drummond limited to 12 first-half minutes, he was fresh to go 21 in the second half, when he registered 14 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He put the exclamation point on the win, quashing Boston’s last legitimate attempt at a comeback, with a sensational blocked shot on Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt with 1:25 left and the Pistons up nine.

“I was thinking to myself when I was running, ‘If he gets this dunk, it’s going to ignite their entire team,’ ” Drummond said. “So I was like, ‘I have to do something.’ So I just took that last step and met him at the rim.”

“There was a play late, Marcus Smart got a little reverse layup, and I went to Dre and I said, ‘No more,’ ” Griffin said. “ ‘Somebody’s got to go through your chest or go over the top of you and they can’t do either.’ Next play down, Jayson Tatum went up for a dunk and you all saw that. That’s winning basketball. You guys see the box score and you see 20-20, but his effect on the game goes so much further than just the box score that those plays like he had tonight are why you come out with a win.”

Those sensational plays by their All-Star tandem, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, yes, those are essential to winning. So is getting their best shooters back and seeing what pairing Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard can do to make life easier for them.