Fast start, strong finish enough to lift hot Pistons over struggling Kings

Avery Bradley scored 24 points as the Pistons started fast and finished strong to defeat the struggling Sacramento Kings
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

It took the Pistons 10 games to match what it took them 82 to accomplish last season: win three games on the second night of a back-to-back set.

They went 3-14 in such situations last season. There were a few handfuls of stats you can look at from their 37-win 2016-17 season and say “if only that were different …,” but 3-14 in back to backs has to be No. 1 on the list.

Well, they’re 3-0 this season with 11 more chances to beat last year’s total.

This win wasn’t nearly as dazzling as their last back-to-back win – coming back from a 14-point deficit at Golden State to beat the reigning NBA champions less than 24 hours removed from charging back from 13 down to beat the lone remaining unbeaten team, the Los Angeles Clippers.

But in its own way, the win over a 1-7 Sacramento Kings team that generated little fear was impressive if only because of that. Nobody wants to call them “trap games,” but, yeah, that’s kind of what it was.

“Wasn’t our best game, but we were able to grind it out, able to get some stops at the end to fuel our offense,” Tobias Harris said “We’re just looking to continue to build consistency. That’s the biggest thing.”

At 7-3, the Pistons are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season, having won 5 of 6 games since losing at home to Philadelphia on Oct. 23.

Ask around the locker room and you’ll hear words like “demeanor” and “defensive mindset” and “maturity” and “camaraderie.” Those are the things that go into wins on nights like this – a back to back, against a middling team you’re supposed to beat, a night after beating a division rival expected to fight for a top-four playoff seed.

“We lost our first couple of games against teams under .500,” said Anthony Tolliver, who took a one-year hiatus with Sacramento last season before returning to the Pistons. “It does feel good to take care of business. Just being able to take care of business against a team that doesn’t have a great record, it definitely feels good to get it done.”

Stan Van Gundy did a little more rotation jockeying, using rookie Luke Kennard in the second half in Langston Galloway’s spot. After the game, he announced Kennard and Henry Ellenson would play a Sunday matinee game for the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive. Kennard was on the floor late in the third quarter when the Pistons closed with a 14-5 run to take an 11-point lead and he had a spectacular touch pass that produced an Ish Smith layup.

When Sacramento threatened, Smith helped lift them to the finish line with his relentless motor. Smith had eight points, three rebounds and two assists in eight high-energy fourth-quarter minutes to help seal the win.

“Whew! His energy level was so high,” Stan Van Gundy said. “He didn’t play that many minutes; he was exhausted because the pace he was playing at. Had we been able to get some people to run with him, I think we could’ve done even more damage in transition.”

The most damage was done by Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Harris.

Drummond capped a dominant weekend – after a 24-point, 15-rebound outing in which he hit 14 of 16 free throws to spur the win over Milwaukee – with 16 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot.

“Playing all these back-to-back games, everybody is still a little banged up from the night before,” Drummond said. “But it’s a game that we needed and a game that we wanted. We went out there in that second half and played the way we’re supposed to and came out with a win.”

Bradley matched Friday night’s 24 points with another two dozen, hitting 3 of 6 triples. Harris added 20 points and five assists and knocked down 4 of 7 triples.

“Wasn’t our best game, but we were able to grind it out,” Harris said. “We’ve shown all year – small sample size – that we’re going to fight every single game and give our hardest.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 112-103 win over the Miami Heat at Little Caesars Arena

1-A SUNDAY CLASSIC – You might have missed it, given that the Pistons played smack dab in the middle of an NFL Sunday, but that was a great NBA basketball game they won on Sunday. After falling behind by 11 points, the largest deficit of the game, the Pistons closed the third quarter on a 21-8 burst to lead by two points. They took a seven-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, then answered Miami’s 6-0 run with a 7-0 spurt. In going from 11 down in the third quarter to 11 ahead in the fourth, the Pistons outscored the Heat 41-19. The win gave the Pistons a clean sweep of their five-game home stand. Miami wrapped up a six-game road trip at 3-3. Miami, eighth in scoring defense and coming off a win at Utah on Friday in which the Jazz were held to 74 points and just seven in the third quarter, scored 58 points in the first half and did it with a barrage of 3-pointers, hitting 11 of 23 in the half alone. But turnabout proved fair play, the Pistons getting back in the game on the strength of 3-point shooting. It was their third straight game with 12-plus triples as they finished 14 of 28 with Tobias Harris (5 of 8) and Anthony Tolliver (3 of 3) doing significant damage. Rookie Luke Kennard scored a career-high 14 points and scored nine points, including a big triple, during the fourth-quarter run as the Pistons took their 11-point lead. Harris led the Pistons with 25 points while Avery Bradley added 24 and Andre Drummond grabbed 17 rebounds.

2-BACK-TO-BACK ISSUES – Stanley Johnson missed time late in training camp and the preseason finale with a lower-back injury, then missed the past two games with a left hip flexor injury. Stan Van Gundy hoped to get both Johnson and Jon Leuer – who missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle – back no later than Wednesday, when the Pistons start a three-game road trip at Milwaukee. But now Johnson’s back is again a problem. “He’s got no structural (problem),” Van Gundy said before Sunday’s game. “They’ve done the MRI; there’s nothing in there. He doesn’t have a disc problem. There’s no fractures in there, none of that. He’s got a Grade 1 sprain, but not feeling real good. Not loosening up or anything. It would be good to get those guys back, especially going back out on the road to play nine of 11 on the road. You don’t want to be without two of your top seven guys.” Reggie Bullock, who started again in Johnson’s spot, didn’t get a lot done, going scoreless on three shots in 21 minutes.

3-HEAT RISING – Miami’s 3-point extravaganza was especially stark in light of the Heat’s recent history. Just two years ago, Miami averaged a mere 18 3-point attempts a game. Last year, they took 50 percent more – 27 a game. This year, they entered Sunday’s game averaging nearly 31 shots a game, ninth most in the NBA. The Pistons, meanwhile, have been consistently among the league leaders at limiting 3-point attempts. Through their first 12 games, only four NBA teams had allowed fewer triples per game than Detroit’s 25.9. Miami had 23 by halftime. Ten of Miami’s first 13 shots were 3-pointers. The Pistons finished 26th in the league last season in 3-point attempts, taking only 23.4 per game. Through 12 games, they’d increased that to 28.2, 17th in the league. Miami finished 13 of 37 from the arc.

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