Griffin, Jackson finish preseason with a flourish as Pistons crush Cavs
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Three quick observations from Friday night’s 129-110 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center
THUMBS UP – The convincing win wasn’t nearly as consequential as what the Pistons saw from three key players being eased into form due to health concerns: Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard. In fact, Dwane Casey probably was tempted to pull the plug on them at halftime, so impressive were their first-half performances. Jackson got it started by knocking down two early triples, getting to the basket to draw the foul for two free throws and turning the corner on a pick and roll that ended with an on-target lob for an Andre Drummond dunk. Kennard came off the bench to score 10 points in just six minutes, hitting a pair of triples and taking the ball to the rim to convert two layups. Griffin did it inside and out, three times powering to the rim for dunks, scoring on post-ups and also taking it outside to hit 2 of 3 triples in a 19-point, five-assist first half before adding another 10 points in the third quarter and finishing with 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting in 25 minutes. Andre Drummond put up 21 points and 15 rebounds.
LINEUP WRINKLES – Dwane Casey’s willingness to be proactive with unconventional lineups saw its boldest move so far with the unit he put out to start the second quarter: point guards Ish Smith and Reggie Jackson together with shooting guards Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway surrounding Zaza Pachulia. Cleveland was also playing small – but not to that degree. The Cavs had Tristan Thompson and Sam Dekker out with Kyle Korver and guards Jordan Clarkson and rookie Collin Sexton. That meant a guard had to cover the 6-foot-9 Dekker with Jackson or Kennard the likeliest choices. Jackson got the assignment. The Pistons went on an 8-0 run to open the quarter with that group before Cleveland rattled off six straight points before Casey brought Blake Griffin and Stanley Johnson back into the game. The lineup to start the fourth quarter wasn’t quite as radically downsized with Stanley Johnson replacing Kennard in the unit. Casey used Zaza Pachulia as the third big man in each half. Henry Ellenson and Jon Leuer didn’t play until Ellenson checked in with less than four minutes to play and the Pistons leading by 19.
OFFENSE CLICKS – Dwane Casey preached more fun, less thinking to the Pistons this week and it appeared to take hold in the preseason finale. They scored 69 points in the first half and even managed to squeeze out 28 in a third quarter when they missed a handful of wide-open 3-point shots – the kind of triples Casey’s offense covets. It appears increasingly likely that Galloway has won a spot in Casey’s rotation. After scoring 24 points in Monday’s overtime loss to Brooklyn, Galloway has been a staple in each half of the final two preseason games – the ones Casey most closely stuck to a normal rotation pattern. Galloway’s 3-point shooting – especially when Casey plays him at small forward, which he played alongside the Reggie Jackson-Ish Smith backcourt combination in both the second and fourth quarters – keeps defenses spread. The Pistons had their best 3-point performance of preseason despite missing a number of great looks in the third quarter, finishing 21 of 45 from the arc. Ish Smith, who only started to actively look for open 3-point shots in the final weeks of the 2017-18 season, hit 4 of 6 triples and finished with 16 points and nine assists. Jackson and Galloway also drained four triples.