Even a pre-break loss doesn’t dampen Pistons confidence they’ve turned a corner
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BOSTON – A loss at Boston doesn’t send the Pistons into the All-Star break on a wave of euphoria, but they’ll get there infused with a far more tangible sense of confidence than they exuded even two weeks ago.
“I think this past week, week and a half, we’ve played really, really good basketball,” Andre Drummond said after the 120-112 loss to Boston snapped a four-game win streak. “We set a goal to go 5 and 2 and we succeeded with that. Take our time now, got a week off, take a break, come back and it’s off to the races from there.”
Drummond put together another big statistical game with 21 points, 17 rebounds and four steals – a second straight four-steal game – and he’s a big part of the reboot that has the Pistons sitting in the playoff field at the break. And just when the Pistons might have resigned themselves to not seeing vintage Reggie Jackson at all this season after two injury-marred years, he goes into the break off of his best stretch since the 2015-16 playoff year.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said after scoring 18 points and hitting half of his six 3-point shots. “I think we’re building more continuity, getting to know each other and getting a little more comfortable within our roles and then just playing.”
One area the Pistons will need to address when they return from the break is how to adjust for the loss of size on their wings as a result of the trade-deadline deals that sent Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson away. Not many teams – in fact, maybe none – are as equipped to exploit that disadvantage as the Celtics, who started Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart on the perimeter and came off the bench with mosre size in Jaylen Brown.
Each of those players had a size advantage – in some cases, a big one – over Pistons counterparts Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Langston Galloway and Wayne Ellington.
“Big-time (problems),” Dwane Casey said of the issues that created for the Pistons, who were outrebounded 47-41 and outscored in the paint 52-38. “That’s why they’re such a good defensive team. Their size, I thought, hurt our guards. Gave Ish (Smith) problems, gave our guards problems, even our wings – Luke and Wayne and Langston. They had size on all of those guys.”
The Pistons gave the Celtics enormous problems, too, in stretches in a game of extreme runs. The Pistons had a 17-0 run in the first quarter after spotting the Celtics an eight-point lead to start the game and they had a 20-2 run in the fourth quarter after falling 28 points behind.
But it was the runs Boston put together to start every quarter that had the Pistons playing catch-up nearly all night. In addition to the 8-0 run to start the game, Boston opened the second quarter 8-0, the third quarter 8-2 and the fourth quarter 9-0.
“We just didn’t start off the way we would like,” Jackson said. “We’d go on runs each and every quarter but I think the biggest thing in this league is how you start quarters and how you finish them. They did a good job of that. They usually made us be the first one to call timeout.”
“The beginning of quarters, we’ve got to come out stronger,” Drummond said. “You can’t start quarters off like that. It’s going to be hard to fight back against a good team like this. That’s really what it boils down to. You’ve just got to start the game off the right way.”
Amid the chaos of their fourth-quarter comeback, the Pistons found another nugget of optimism for the closing 26 games. After Ellington missed his first 11 3-point shots starting with his Monday debut, he scored 10 fourth-quarter points and hit half of his final six 3-point tries. The Pistons know he has a lot of bullets left in his chamber.
“We know he’s a good shooter,” Drummond said. “He knocked down a couple of big shots today. When we get back, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”
“Everybody knows he’s a shooter,” Jackson said. “Whether shots go in or not, we want him taking the shot. We told him we’re going to keep coming to him and just keep taking them. He’s a great shooter in this league for a long time and he’s proven why.”
Casey started Kennard over Galloway, who’d taken Bullock’s lineup spot in the last two games. When the Pistons reconvene, it might be Ellington in that spot so Casey returns Kennard to a more familiar role off the bench.
“If that’s the decision we go with,” Casey said, “he’s been there. But it doesn’t make it automatic. We’ve got to have balance. You’ve got to have something coming off the bench, too. We’ve got to figure that out.”
Casey will have a week to sort out his options and plot a course for the season’s final eight weeks and 26 games. He’ll get to do it with a greater sense of confidence than he might have held a few weeks ago.