Griffin rises to the moment in final minute as Pistons pull out big win over Heat

Ish Smith scored a season-high 25 points and hit a clutch triple in the final minute as the Pistons outlasted Miami.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Should we start with Ish Smith? Yeah, let’s start with Ish Smith and his season-high 25 points and the clinching triple – from a guy shooting 22 percent from the arc for the season – as the Pistons beat Miami 111-107 for their third straight win to keep them perfect since the trade for Blake Griffin.

And then we go to Griffin, who had missed all five of his triples – and 13 of his 18 shots overall – until stroking one with 44 seconds left to give the Pistons a seven-point lead. It was Griffin who made the play – with the Pistons up three and trying to wind the clock down – one possession after that big that to produce the Smith triple with 14 seconds remaining.

Don’t worry. We can go through everybody and it won’t take long. Missing his backcourt reserves, Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks, Stan Van Gundy used only seven players in the second half.

They all made enough happen for a win that keeps the Pistons surging from the rear in the Eastern Conference playoff race after a 3-12 swoon following Reggie Jackson’s injury dropped them from fourth in the standings to ninth. Saturday’s win pulled them within a half-game of Philadelphia for the final playoff berth.

“It’s a sense of urgency on this team,” Andre Drummond said. “Really excited with the addition of Blake. Just the energy in the locker room has been great. You can see the chemistry starting to build and the sky’s the limit from here. Keep getting those wins and keep making this playoff push.”

Before we go any further, we should probably spend a second more on Drummond. All he did was compile a double-double in each half – 11 points and 10 boards in the first, 12 points and 10 boards in the second – while also amassing four steals and four blocks. The last time anyone had numbers as good or greater in those four categories? Hakeem Olajuwon in 1989.

Stanley Johnson, after three straight strong games, made it four despite not getting much done in the first half. But 11 of his 13 points and five of his seven rebounds came after halftime and he helped Van Gundy overcome his depleted perimeter but doing a creditable job guarding Goran Dragic, Miami’s All-Star point guard, down the stretch.

“I just see a lot more opportunity,” he said. “With Blake involved, he creates so much attention it’s, like, crazy. It’s easy to turn the corner sometimes with him. With Andre out there, we’ve got two guys who are crazy lob threats. It’s kind of ‘pick your poison’ sometimes.”

Smith played almost 40 minutes – he added seven assists and a single turnover to his 25 points – but the Pistons held their own while he sat as Langston Galloway backed up both Smith and Reggie Bullock. He finished with 13 points and four assists, committing just one turnover.

Anthony Tolliver played 28 minutes off the bench, including the entire fourth quarter, many of them out of position at small forward in a tough matchup with Josh Richardson. Tolliver matched Galloway’s 13 points, hitting 3 of 5 triples, and chipped in five of the Pistons 49 rebounds as they dominated the glass with a plus-16 margin.

Though the Pistons scored eight points above their season average against the NBA’s No. 7 defensive team – they hit 14 of 18 shots in the fourth quarter and 4 of 6 triples in scoring 35 points – Van Gundy blamed himself for not devising an offense that helps Griffin more.

“I’ve got this great player now and we’re playing to him all the time and the defense is all loaded up,” he said. “Blake felt the same way talking to him after the game. We just need to play and get the ball moving and he’ll find his way. I thought I made it really tough on him and our team today offensively.”

Griffin matched Smith’s seven assists and added nine rebounds. He admitted to fatigue after a whirlwind week that saw him uprooted and thrown into the middle of a playoff chase with a team that’s putting its fate largely in his hands.

“A little more tired today,” he said. “The adrenaline wore off a little bit (from) just the toll of the week. It’s amazing to see all these guys step up and play so well. Andre was unbelievable tonight. Ish, Langston – you can go on down the line and name a big play or big moment everybody had. This was the true definition of a team win to me.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday night’s 111-91 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Little Caesars Arena

1-BACK TO .500 – Didn’t take long for the Pistons to get back to .500. Less than a week after trading for Blake Griffin, they got there. Their fourth straight win was built on defense and ball movement. A 14-2 run that started midway through the third quarter gave the Pistons at 18-point lead with three minutes left in the quarter. Portland sliced its deficit to 12 entering the fourth quarter. But the Pistons bumped it back to 17 with 8:31 to play against a Blazers team that lost on Super Bowl Sunday at Boston and it never got tight after that. The Pistons recorded a season high with 36 assists as six players recorded at least four assists. Andre Drummond, coming off an Eastern Conference Player of the Week performance, finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots before exiting the game with six minutes to play. Griffin added 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The Pistons held Portland 13 points below its season average

2-SHUTDOWN D – Portland’s dynamic scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum came in averaging a combined 47.1 points a game, second only to Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (47.8). With Avery Bradley no longer available to blanket one or the other, the Pistons appeared vulnerable to an assault on that front. But Lillard and McCollum were held to just 34 points and a comboined 14 of 32 shooting. Stanley Johnson opened the game guarding McCollum, who shot 6 of 15 and finished with 14 points and just one assist. When Johnson re-entered the game in the second quarter he got matched up with Lillard, who finished with 20 points on 8 of 17 shooting. McCollum and Lillard combined to make only three 3-point shots. Ish Smith, Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock all had a hand in individual defense on Portland’s backcourt pair, but another key factor was the suffocating pick-and-roll defense played by Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin.

3-DIFFERENT GAME – The Pistons carried a four-game winning streak into the game against Portland over the past two seasons and they scored at least 120 points in each of the four games. But the Trail Blazers, despite minimal roster changes, went from a bottom-10 defense last season to a top-10 defense this year. The flip side is that even though the Pistons won all four meetings the previous two seasons, Portland averaged 118.5 points in last year’s two losses, though there were a total of three overtime periods played in the two games. The rout meant that the two Pistons two-way players – Kay Felder and Reggie Hearn – made their debuts. Hearn hit his first shot, a triple.

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