Griffin, Drummond dominant, but Maker steals the show with 5 points, 5 stitches
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – On a night Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin both topped 30 points, Dwane Casey kept bringing the conversation around to the newest Pistons big man: Thon Maker.
Maker finished with five and five – five points, five stitches. He played 75 seconds in the first half – with Griffin playing the other 1,365 seconds – and that was just long enough to record a spectacular block of Bobby Portis’ dunk attempt and to suffer an ugly gash to his upper lip when Jordan McRae unintentionally head butted him.
After getting his mouth sewn back together, Maker returned to the game in the third quarter, hit a big corner three during an 8-0 Pistons run that turned the game irrevocably their way and won the hearts of his coach and teammates. A few more episodes like that, he’ll be an honorary Bad Boy.
“What a hustler that young man is,” Casey gushed. “I love the way he competes. His spirit is in the right place. He’s about winning.”
Maker, acquired last week from Milwaukee in a three-team trade that sent Stanley Johnson to New Orleans, added four rebounds to go with the five points on 2 of 3 shooting and that highlight-reel block in 14 minutes of playing time. He was also a menaced defensively, his quick feet and pterodactyl-like reach distracting shooters in the paint and out to the perimeter. The Pistons were 15 points better than Washington with Maker on the floor.
“His energy tonight was unbelievable,” Griffin said of the 7-foot, 21-year-old Maker. “He played just as hard in the second half. Gets five stitches, came back in and plays just as hard. Had a little collision going for a rebound with Dre, which is fun to see somebody finally contest Dre for a rebound. That attitude alone – that toughness – is a huge thing for us.”
The 121-112 win over Washington was the fourth straight for the Pistons, one off their season high, and they’ve now won five of six. With the teams immediately in front of (Charlotte) and behind (Miami) the Pistons both losing, they wound up a half-game behind the Hornets for the No. 7 spot and a full game ahead of Miami for the No. 8 spot in the East.
“It was a big one for us,” said Luke Kennard, who hit 4 of 6 triples and scored 15 off the bench in more than 28 minutes, taking advantage of the opportunity created by the trade of Reggie Bullock to the Lakers. “Obviously, every one from here on out is an important one for us, but we’re five and one in the last six. We’ve got one more before the (All-Star) break and it’s just as important. We can’t take our break now. We’ve got one more to take care of.”
Griffin finished a rebound and an assist shy of a triple-double to go with 31 points. Drummond scored a season-high 32 points to go with 17 rebounds and four steals.
“Blake and I have really done a good job of communicating both on and off the court of things we can do to help each other,” Drummond said. “It’s a nightmare for teams. You’ve got to pick your poison, who you want to get going. And it’s scary when we both get it going.”
Griffin was on the bench for the last seven minutes of the third quarter, though, when Maker helped the Pistons seize control of the game against another team recast by trade-deadline deals. The Wizards traded Otto Porter to Chicago for Portis and Jabari Parker and Portis scored 24 off the bench, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. Bradley Beal played the whole second half and finished with 32 points and 10 assists in 41 minutes.
Wayne Ellington made his Pistons debut and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, hitting his only other shot, a driving layup in the second half. But Griffin said he could already tell that the respect opponents have for Ellington is going to create more space for he and Drummond to operate.
“Just his presence – you have to respect it because you know how good a shooter he is,” Griffin said. “I’m going into a (dribble handoff) with him and they’re sending both guys. It’ll be a different look for us.”
But it was the other newcomer who stole the night.
“I just love the energy that Thon brings,” Casey said. “He creates an atmosphere, the way he plays – the hustle plays, the blocks. Gets a number of stitches in his lip and wants to get back in, not take time off. His spirit is contagious.”
And, suddenly, that’s what winning has become for the Pistons.
“The theme of this stretch we’ve been on has been about us,” Griffin said. “It hasn’t been about other teams. It’s what we’re doing. We beat Golden State, Boston, Houston, Toronto, Philly. We’ve beat these teams. And we’ve also lost – no disrespect – to Atlanta and some teams toward the bottom. It doesn’t matter what your opponent does. It matters what we do.”