Everybody gets into the act as Pistons crush Orlando for 3rd straight win

Jodie Meeks scored 34 points, making 9 of 11 3-point shots, to lead the Pistons to their second straight dominant road win and third straight overall
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – Maybe the Pistons won't be so eager to say goodbye to 2014, after all.

From the misery of a 5-23 start in which every button Stan Van Gundy pushed seemed to open another trap door, suddenly he can do no wrong. The Pistons won their third straight game, this one a second straight 23-point road pounding, 109-86 over Orlando.

"When guys are making shots, you look like you can really coach," Van Gundy said. "You really do. 'Oh, man, that was a nice play they just ran.' 'Wow, that was a great decision, putting him in the game.' All those things look great when the ball's going in the basket. Players make you look good. Our guys are playing well."

As in, all of them. Van Gundy cleared the bench and 12 of 13 players scored. It was a 10-point lead headed to the fourth quarter and Van Gundy began it with a lineup that included only one starter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. None of those other starters ever budged from the bench as the second unit established dominance in the first two minutes, taking their lead to 17.

Well, check that. Those starters got off the bench plenty in the fourth quarter – in joyous celebration. The Pistons led the league in fun Tuesday.

"We're trying to support our teammates like they support us," said Greg Monroe, who played just 21 minutes yet still contributed nine points and nine boards. "Everybody is in this together and everybody's happy right now. We're winning. We're just trying to have fun but also stay focused at the same time."

After a sluggish first quarter in which the Pistons shot 33 percent and scored only 20 points, they had plenty to hoot and holler about over the last three quarters: Jodie Meeks' 20-point second quarter, when he hit 6 of 6 from the 3-point line; Andre Drummond's third quarter, when he scored nine points and grabbed 12 rebounds; and Joel Anthony's fourth quarter, when he entered the game for the first time to start the quarter and closed out the win, scoring six points to go with three rebounds and four emphatic blocked shots.

"He's a true professional and he always stays ready – lifts every day, works hard," Meeks said. "So we appreciate his professionalism. He comes in and helps us when his number is called."

"To me, the guy who really opened the game up was Joel Anthony with his defense," Van Gundy said. "Four blocks in a quarter. I thought he changed the whole thing. We got good performances from a lot of guys and a good last three quarters."

It was just Anthony's ninth game of the season and his first action since Dec. 6. Van Gundy went to him, thinking it would be a brief stint, in part because Drummond had logged 29 minutes through three quarters and in part because Orlando had gone small – with pick-and-pop specialist Channing Frye at center and Tobias Harris at power forward – to change the rhythm of the game after Drummond's dominant third quarter.

"He's a younger guy, not as experienced," Van Gundy said. "He hasn't guarded that many guys who shoot on the perimeter. He's used to being around the rim. Joel's had to do that. It was just going to be a few-minutes thing and then we got on such a run that ... hey, look, Joel was playing great. There was no reason to go back to him."

The Pistons are now 8-23, but 5-4 with Meeks in the lineup and 3-0 since Van Gundy waived Josh Smith, in part, he said, to diversify the offense. The Pistons have been dynamite on offense over those three games, averaging 110.7 a game.

"As a team, we're playing a lot better," said Meeks, who hit 9 of 11 triples and finished with 34 points. "The ball's moving. Everybody's excited. The bench is excited for one another. I think that's the biggest difference. Winning is definitely fun. Having a good time."

Meeks, who missed a little more than eight weeks and the season's first 22 games with a back injury, said after hitting 3 of 4 triples and scoring 14 points in Sunday's win at Cleveland that he felt he was getting his legs back. Van Gundy designed a significant portion of his offense with Meeks in mind and the playbook is wide open for him now. As encouraging as it was for Meeks to go on a spree, it was telling that his teammates looked to find him at every opportunity.

"He's made a big difference," Monroe said. "He's a great shooter. He can score the ball, so he's just added another option for us. Tonight, he just got hot."

His backcourt buddy off the bench, D.J. Augustin, was especially attuned to Meeks' hot hand, finishing with 10 assists against just one turnover to go with 11 points.

"When I hit one, I feel like I'm hot," Meeks grinned after coming within one of Joe Dumars' franchise-record 10 triples. "We did a good job just moving the ball. Everybody shot a pretty good percentage tonight. I just took what was open and tonight it was me, but the next night it could be Jonas or Pope or Brandon or whoever. We just try to do it by committee."

They'll take a three-game winning streak into 2015, which opens on Friday at New York.

"Maybe roles were expanded, maybe we just finally clicked," Meeks said when asked what's changed over the three-game winning streak besides Smith's absence. "This is how the offense is supposed to be run. Maybe we had success one game and now we want to do it, but we're playing well right now. That's all I care aobut."

Bring on 2015.

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night's 109-86 win over the Orlando Magic

SLAM DUNK – Team win? The very dictionary definition. After the starters struggled out of the gate, with the Pistons shooting 33 percent in the first quarter and scoring just 20 points, the bench – Jodie Meeks especially – responded with a 34-point second quarter. When Orlando fell behind by double digits in the third quarter and were getting dominated by Andre Drummond – who had 10 of his 22 rebounds in the first six minutes of the quarter – they went small and Stan Van Gundy countered with a lineup that included Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver. The Pistons rolled to their third straight win – all by double digits, this one a 109-86 thrashing of Orlando, which came into the game off back-to-back road wins over 2014 playoff teams. Meeks finished with 34 points, hitting 9 of 11 from the 3-point line, and Drummond with 17 points, three blocks, two steals and two assists despite not playing in the fourth quarter.

FREE THROW – Stan Van Gundy looked at his roster after adding five free agents and felt the team would have at least a few offensive strengths: 3-point shooting and depth. The preseason injury that knocked Jodie Meeks out for eight weeks put a crimp in both areas. But Meeks is back and the Pistons are starting to resemble the team Van Gundy anticipated. Meeks rescued the Pistons from a sluggish start by dropping 6 of 6 3-pointers during a 20-point second quarter. He missed his first of the second half, then made his next three. Meeks also had two steals and got to the foul line four times. The Pistons, one game after making a franchise-best 17 triples, came back with 14 more.

3-POINTER – Stan Van Gundy signed Aaron Gray as a free agent because he wanted someone who wouldn't make waves if he went games without playing but who'd be professional enough to be ready when needed. When Gray had to be shut down with a heart condition, Van Gundy traded for Joel Anthony because he possessed the same qualities. The little-used Anthony gave the Pistons a big lift in the fourth quarter when Van Gundy called on to him to counter Orlando's strategy of going small and using slender power forward Channing Frye – a 3-point specialist – as the center. Anthony responded by blocking four shots, including a statement block on Victor Oladipo on his first defensive possession of the night, while also converting on a put-back and two adroit lobs from D.J. Augustin, putting up six points and three rebounds.

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