Game balls all around as Pistons win at Houston minus Drummond, Griffin

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown took the brunt of the job of guarding James Harden and also contributed 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals as the Pistons scored a big win.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

HOUSTON – If the Pistons had presented a game ball to everyone who played a part in a strong candidate for the season’s best win, it might stretch their budget.

But start with Bruce Brown and Tony Snell. It was their job, after all, to do the impossible: contain James Harden, coming off consecutive 50-point games and averaging a tidy 39, a layer of the stratosphere only the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain has ever sniffed.

“They get the game balls, for sure,” Luke Kennard said. “They made it tough for him. He’s a good player. He’s going to get his. But you’ve got to make it tough on him and I thought they really did a good job of that tonight.”

Harden required 33 shots to hit his season scoring average of 39 on the nose. Six of his seven assists came in the first quarter before the Pistons corrected some game-plan errors, but they took Harden’s playmaking away after that. And he scored just seven points at the foul line after the Pistons didn’t let him get there at all in the first half.

“They did a great job,” Dwane Casey said of Brown and Snell. “For what Bruce Brown did – to pick up full court for every minute he was in there – that’s a man’s job. It takes discipline and a lot of grit and Tony and Bruce showed it.”

So did Thon Maker, Christian Wood and Markieff Morris, who took on expanded roles with Andre Drummond missing all of the game – the allergic reaction to avocado that he played through in Mexico City was the cause – and Blake Griffin sitting out the second half with soreness in the left knee that was surgically repaired after the late-season injury last spring. Griffin scored two points, shooting 0 of 7.

Wood scored 11 points with a season-high 12 rebounds in 22 minutes, Morris scored 15 points and hit 3 of 6 from the 3-point arc and Maker was his typical bundle of arms and energy. Minus the NBA’s leading rebounder and against a top-10 rebounding team, the Pistons left with a 55-46 rebound edge. Six players had five or more boards.

“Next man up,” said Snell, who finished with five boards to go with his 15 points, also hitting 3 of 6 from the 3-point arc. “We’ve all got to try to find a way to step in together and try to chip in.”

With Brown and Snell tag teaming Harden defensively – Langston Galloway, who made it seven Pistons in double figures with 10 points, also took a spin or two – it was Derrick Rose and Kennard who spearheaded the scoring. Kennard scored 18 of his 22 in the first half, which ended with the Pistons up 62-52 – a lead they never lost – and Rose scored 10 of his 20 in the fourth quarter while finishing with a season-high 12 assists.

“That’s what you’ve got to have,” Casey said of Rose’s fourth-quarter killer instinct, which asserted itself for the third time in four games – all wins. “That’s what this league is about – having players that can create their own shot. And he did that.”

“We trust him with the ball,” said Snell, a teammate of Rose’s in Chicago. “That’s our superstar. We trust him to make the right play and we’ll live with the results.”

Brown didn’t just do as well as seems humanly possible on Harden these days, he also made a loud impact on the stat sheet: 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting, six assists against two turnovers, four steals, a blocked shot and a season-best 10 rebounds.

The Pistons made Harden go to his right and dared him to take it all the way to the rim. The big men broke the game plan early, which led to the early lobs to enable Clint Capela four dunks among Houston’s first five baskets, but cleaned that up.

“Your instincts tell you to do one thing and the game plan tells you to do another,” Casey said. “It’s very difficult to do, especially against a great player like Harden that’s coming down the lane.”

“We just told our bigs not to step up,” Brown said. “Just try to let James finish at the rim because he struggles with that a little bit. Really, just pick and choose. We were trying to keep him from the 3-point line and take away his step-backs and it worked tonight.”

So give Casey and his staff a game ball for that decision, too.

Are we missing anyone?

“It’s really satisfying,” Casey said of the contributions up and down the roster. “Our guys showed a lot of grit. Grit and hard play. Our guys demonstrated that from one through 15 – everybody that went on the floor tonight.”

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