Fourth-quarter fireworks as Pistons blast Minnesota to stay hot
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Three quick observations on Wednesday night’s 131-114 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Little Caesars Arena
RADICAL 180 – After a sluggish start that verged on disastrous, the Pistons caught up before halftime but could never put any distance between themselves and Minnesota. It took 83 seconds of the fourth quarter for everything to change. A deep Luke Kennard triple opened the quarter, then after Derrick Rose’s runner rimmed out Langston Galloway converted a four-point play seconds later. After another Pistons stop, Ish Smith found Glenn Robinson III cutting for a dunk. Suddenly a two-point Pistons lead had swelled to 11. Minnesota’s frustration bubbled over as Taj Gibson got ejected for a flagrant-2 chop to Andre Drummond’s neck that resulted in a seven-point Pistons possession: Smith’s basket as the foul was in process, two free throws for a Minnesota technical foul and the flagrant, plus a Thon Maker triple as the Pistons kept possession due to the flagrant-2. In the first 3:35 of the fourth quarter, the Pistons outscored Minnesota 23-5 to take a 20-point lead. Drummond, who registered his 16th straight double-double, had 14 points and six rebounds in a superb third quarter and finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds. Smith and Kennard helped get a game that started off very poorly turned around in the second quarter, especially capitalizing off of Minnesota turnovers. The Pistons held a 16-0 edge in first-half points off turnovers to get back in the game after falling behind by double digits early. A 25-10 run after the Pistons trailed 45-32 gave them their first lead late in the second quarter. Smith was superb in finishing with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists on 8 of 10 shooting in 27 minutes. Minnesota, coming off of a Tuesday home win over Oklahoma City in which Karl-Anthony Towns scored 41 points, caught the Pistons on their heels to start the game in grabbing a 16-point lead before the first quarter was over. But the Pistons won going away, their eighth straight win over Minnesota. The Pistons have won 10 of 12 and, at 32-31, are over .500 for the first time since beating Minnesota in December.
NO ZAZA – With Zaza Pachulia missing the game with right Achilles inflammation, something that’s bothered him for a while now, you might have expected Jon Leuer to be next man up. But Dwane Casey instead moved Thon Maker to center with the second unit and went to Glenn Robinson III at power forward where he mostly matched up against ex-Pistons 3-point specialist Anthony Tolliver. Casey didn’t use Maker at center for long, though, because he played Drummond the whole first and third quarters and then rushed him back into the game early in the second and fourth quarters when Minnesota got starting center Karl-Anthony Towns back in the game. Maker hit 4 of 6 shots and had 10 points, two rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. Robinson hit a corner three to put the Pistons ahead 90-88 at the end of three quarters and finished with seven points and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
KENNARD KEEPS IT UP – There were plenty of reasons the Pistons went 9-2 over their previous 11 games to get back to .500, but perhaps no single bigger factor than the fact they ranked No. 1 in 3-point shooting over that time after ranking No. 30 through the end of January. Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard were the two hottest shooters, Jackson hitting .485 from the arc on six 3-point attempts per game and Kennard .484 on 5.6 attempts. Kennard missed his first three shots, two of them from the 3-point arc, but he scored 13 first-half points and was at the center of the Pistons’ second-quarter rally. He hit 5 of 7 shots, including his only 3-point attempt of the quarter, both of his free throws and had two assists plus two rebounds. He finished with 21 points, hitting 8 of 16 overall and 3 of 7 from the 3-point arc in 29 minutes. Jackson played just 20 minutes, in part because Ish Smith got extended minutes in one of his best outings of the season and also because there was no need to bring Jackson back in the fourth quarter with the Pistons leading by 20-plus after the first three minutes. Jackson shot just five times, hitting 1 of 2 from the 3-point arc, and had five assists. The Pistons finished with 29 assists and just five turnovers, winning points off turnovers 24-2. Led by Kennard’s 21 points and 19 from Smith, the Pistons got 70 points off of their bench with four double-figures bench scorers in Kennard, Smith, Thon Maker and Langston Galloway.