Depleted Pistons clamp down after 37-point Houston first quarter to nab big win

Tobias Harris scored 27 points and the Pistons scored a big win over Houston
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The Pistons gave up 32 points to Philadelphia in the first quarter on Friday and trailed by 17. They gave up 37 to a better team 24 hours later and trailed by six.

There were a lot of factors behind the 108-101 win over Houston and a lot of contributors – hello, Eric Moreland and Dwight Buycks – but the way Tobias Harris and Reggie Bullock carried the offense early to prevent the Pistons from being shoved into another early and demoralizing hole was the first link in the chain.

“That was great,” Moreland said. “Reggie’s been knocking down shots. He’s been doing a great job since he’s been inserted. Tobias has been playing well all season. They’re carrying us. We’ve just got to do our parts on the offensive and defensive ends and keep on playing.”

Bullock hit all four of his shots, two of them triples, in a 10-point first quarter. Harris, who finished with 27, scored 11 in the quarter. Houston leads the league by a mile in 3-point attempts – a whopping 51 percent of its shots come from the arc; nobody else in the NBA is even in the 40s – and the Rockets hit seven in the first quarter alone.

But when the Pistons got a feel for the rhythm of Houston’s offense and began closing out on shooters with a little more force, the game turned. The Rockets were held to just 40 points in the middle two quarters and 64 over the final three. The Pistons dominated the third quarter, taking an 11-point lead to the fourth.

Houston cut it to six a minute into the fourth and it looked like Stan Van Gundy would have to rush Bullock, Harris and Ish Smith back into the game. But he let the leash out a little longer on his bench and they responded. By the time Smith replaced Buycks with five minutes to play, the Pistons had matched their biggest lead at 14.

“That little bit of rest was important to us,” Harris said. “We were able to get some more stops and be able to convert on some free throws and some baskets. We’re always going to need the guys who come in to sustain the lead and help us out.”

The Pistons needed all the help they could get with Andre Drummond missing his second game of the week with bruised ribs. He came back Friday night after missing Wednesday’s game at Miami, but took a shot that doubled him over and couldn’t go Saturday. Stanley Johnson also missed his third straight game while Jon Leuer and Reggie Jackson remain out with severe ankle sprains. Houston was without star James Harden, which shifts the primary offensive onus to a guy both accustomed to and capable of filling the void, Chris Paul.

Paul finished with 16 points and 13 assists, a line that Van Gundy found tolerable.

“Chris hurt us – 13 assists,” he said. “I still think we played it the best we could play it. Eric can get up there.”

Van Gundy and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni played a cat-and-mouse game with Van Gundy looking to keep Moreland in the game whenever Paul was on the floor for Moreland’s quick feet and ability to defend the pick and roll.

“Man, I better be up because he’s going to get to dancing on me,” Moreland said of Paul’s threat. “Going in, that was a point of emphasis to be up when he’s coming off pick and roll because he’s really dangerous. He’s one of the better passers to ever play this game, so a point of emphasis was to be up to stop him from getting in the paint.”

Moreland, making his first career start, logged 36 active minutes and finished with a career-high eight points plus eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Ish Smith had 17 points and four assists without committing a turnover in 26 minutes. Bullock finished with 14 and didn’t commit a turnover in 33 minutes while defending the dangerous Eric Gordon well. Buycks finished with a career-best 16 points, knocking down 4 of 5 triples.

The Pistons, in danger of losing a third straight game with another road trip looming, notched another impressive win, adding Houston to a list of victims that includes Golden State, Boston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Every win they notch with Drummond and Jackson out puts them in more favorable position for whenever they return to full health. The scoring of their starters in the first quarter kept them in it, the play of some guys they never expected to need to rely on allowed them to win it.

“It’s a team game,” Anthony Tolliver said. “There’s going to be times where the bench is on the court and we do well and the starters have to come in and keep it going and vice versa. It’s going to take all of us for 82 games to do this at a high level.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 114-80 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center

1-DRE THE DOMINATOR – Andre Drummond’s first half surely will go down as one of the best of his six-year NBA career – and his full game wasn’t too shabby, either. Drummond had 18 points and 13 rebounds by halftime – plus two assists, two blocks and two steals – but what the box score didn’t show was his smothering defense on Brookyn’s pick and rolls. He finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds to go with five assists, two blocks and two steals despite not playing in the fourth quarter, finishing with 31 minutes played, as the Pistons emphatically snapped a five-game road losing streak by ripping the Nets. Rebounding had been an issue of late for the Pistons, getting outrebounded in their last six games and by an average of 7.3 per game. But they dominated the Nets 54-35 and didn’t allow a Brooklyn offensive rebound until the fourth quarter. The Pistons shot 51.6 percent and committed just eight turnovers in the first three quarters before the mixing and matching of lineups commenced amid the rout. Early in the fourth quarter, the Pistons grew their lead to 40 points before both benches emptied. Tobias Harris matched Drummond’s 22 points, hitting 10 of 14 shots in only 26 minutes.

2-GETTING HEALTHY – Stanley Johnson, who missed the past five games with a strained hip flexor, returned and played 20 minutes. Like a lot of young players, Johnson seems to struggle to find a comfortable rhythm after missing time. He missed all three of his shots, though he collected five rebounds and contributed to a superb all-around defensive effort. With Johnson back, the Pistons went 10 deep in the rotation after Stan Van Gundy had pared it to nine in recent games with Langston Galloway the odd man out. Johnson played small forward behind Reggie Bullock with Luke Kennard playing behind Avery Bradley. Dwight Buycks continued his impressive run at point guard, finishing with 17 to set a career high for the second time in the past week. In nine first-half minutes, the Pistons outscored Brooklyn by 21 points with Buycks on the floor. Kennard finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.

3-HELLO, SPENCER – It’s been a while, but the Pistons weren’t the clear loser in the battle of injury lists this time. Brooklyn played without two starters, power forward DeMarre Carroll, its leader in minutes player per game, and shooting guard DeAngelo Russell. The good news for the Nets was the availability of Allen Crabbe, second on the team in minutes played, after he initially listed as doubtful with a shin injury. Crabbe was Brooklyn’s best offensive weapon, finishing with 20 points and hitting 5 of 9 triples. Brooklyn also lost its expected starting point guard, Jeremy Lin, one game into the season – and for the season – with a ruptured patellar tendon. Ex-Piston Spencer Dinwiddie, Stan Van Gundy’s first draft pick after being named Pistons president of basketball operations in 2014, has taken over for Lin and came into the game averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 assists. Dinwiddie has developed into a league-average 3-point shooter (36 percent) while taking more than half of his 11 shots a game from the arc. In the three games prior to meeting the Pistons, Dinwiddie had averaged 25.7 points and 6.7 assists. He had none of that success against his first NBA team, scoring two points to go with three rebounds and three assists on 1 of 5 shooting in 26 minutes.

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