Griffin takes over in 4th quarter as Pistons top Nets for 5th straight win
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy seemed somewhere between frustrated and distraught before the game as he assessed where he was at with revamping the Pistons offense to incorporate all of Blake Griffin’s wondrous skills.
“We’re nowhere,” he said. “Nowhere.”
That wasn’t playbook stuff the Pistons went to over the final seven minutes Wednesday night, it was playground stuff. They got the ball to Griffin and got out of his way.
“Down the stretch, you just kind of have to go with what’s working,” Griffin said after he scored 11 of his 25 points after re-entering the game with 7:20 to play and the Pistons nursing a 91-88 lead on a Brooklyn team that compensated for its shortcomings by launching a dizzying 51 3-point shots. “We used to call that ‘feed the pig.’ If one play works for you, just go back to it.”
Griffin hit 5 of 6 shots, including a crowd-pleasing 3-pointer that included some Globetrotteresque dribbling as a prelude, and picked up two of his team-high seven assists in that final 7:20. His pass to a cutting Ish Smith to beat a double team with just under a minute left put the Pistons ahead by eight to ice the 115-106 win, the team’s fifth straight to lift them back above .500 at 27-26.
“We were just getting him the ball,” Van Gundy said. “He and (Reggie) Bullock played two-man game over there and then we were just cutting Bullock through and letting him go. I don’t even know if that’s in the playbook. It’s in the Blake playbook.”
It hadn’t been a great night for Griffin to that point. Through three quarters, he’d shot 4 of 13 and the Pistons struggled to put any distance between themselves and Brooklyn, which played without Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert and Quincy Acy. But seconds after replacing Andre Drummond – who grabbed 27 rebounds, an NBA high for the season – he powered to the basket for a layup and repeated that twice more over the next two minutes to keep the Nets at arm’s length despite Allen Crabbe’s 19-point fourth quarter.
“He’s that caliber of player,” Bullock said. “He makes the game easy – bully his way through pretty much anybody. We give him the ball in the right positions and he makes the right plays.”
Stanley Johnson was Griffin’s co-star, scoring nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and continuing his recent roll. Johnson, who hit 9 of 15 shots, also spent the game guarding Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. His three steals were a big part of the Pistons generating 20 Brooklyn turnovers and enjoying a 24-10 edge in points off turnovers.
“The difference in the game was turnovers,” Van Gundy said. “We took care of the ball. They turned it over 20 times.”
Drummond also had three steals and Griffin two and the Pistons three frountcourt players combined to score 61 points. But every time the Pistons appeared ready to pull away, Brooklyn would catch up in a hurry via the 3-point shot. Van Gundy fretted before the game that the injuries forced the Nets to put more shooting on the floor and he was less than thrilled with the way the Pistons responded defensively.
“I thought our pick-and-roll defense was really bad tonight,” he said. “Our closeouts were abominable. My message after the game was ‘great win, really happy about the way we finished it, but if we want to be good we’re going to have to commit a lot more to the defensive end of the floor than we did tonight.’ ”
A few weeks ago, during the eight-game losing streak that immediately preceded the five-game win streak, it’s a game the Pistons would have lost. Indeed, they did lose to the same Nets team during that stretch. They won’t win every such close game going forward, but this win certainly underscored the value of having a closer the likes of Griffin.
“He scored, he made the great to pass to Ish on the cut,” Van Gundy said. “We did a little better job with our spacing and he took over. He took over.”