Griffin takes over in 4th quarter as Pistons top Nets for 5th straight win

Blake Griffin took over in the fourth quarter as the Pistons ran their winning streak to 5 games
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 115-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesars Arena

1-THAT’S 5 – Stan Van Gundy is uncomfortable with the paucity of offense he’s been able to install to take advantage of Blake Griffin’s addition and understands it’s going to lead to some crazy swings. In the meantime, sometimes you just give him the ball and get out of the way. Griffin scored 11 points in the final 7:20 and hit Ish Smith for an easy basket inside the final minute to put the Pistons ahead by eight points and seal their fifth straight win. Griffin finished with 25 points and a team-high seven assists. The offense was uneven for most of the night with the ball movement that saw them record a season-best 36 assists in Monday’s win over Portland in scant evidence until the Pistons put together a 36-point fourth quarter. They needed it because the Nets heated up in the fourth, as well, with Allen Crabbe scoring 19 of his game-high 34 in the quarter. Stanley Johnson added nine of his 19 points in the quarter and his defense on Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was crucial. Andre Drummond finished with 17 points and 27 rebounds.

2-TIGHT ROTATION – The Pistons had Dwight Buycks back after missing two games due to illness, but Stan Van Gundy stuck with an eight-man rotation, using only Langston Galloway at point guard, Luke Kennard on the wing and Anthony Tolliver at power forward. Blake Griffin’s ability to play center makes the eight-man group possible. Where Andre Drummond previously would typically play the entire first quarter and then sit for the first four to six minutes of the second, he now sits for two or three minutes midway through the first quarter, then replaces Griffin with two or three minutes left in the third. They swap places again about four minutes into the second quarter and then finish the half playing together when Drummond replaces Tolliver. Galloway played only at point guard behind Ish Smith against the Nets with Kennard, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock rotating through shooting guard and small forward. Galloway scored 13 off the bench for a third straight game. Tolliver had nine and Kennard added eight.

3-DEADLINE DRAMA? – The NBA trade deadline hits at 3 p.m. Thursday but the Pistons almost certainly will do nothing that approaches the impact of last week’s trade that brought Blake Griffin to Detroit and sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and a No. 1 pick – likely conveyed in June unless the Pistons fail to make the playoffs and draw a top-three pick – to the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA traded the Pistons a $5.4 million disabled player exception on Tuesday in response to their petition for Jon Leuer’s season-ending injury, but Stan Van Gundy labeled the chances they’ll use it as “very, very slim.” The Pistons remain close to the luxury tax and using much of the DPE would push them into the tax, which they’d likely only consider if it involved an impact player. The Pistons have until March 12 to use the exception. The NBA had another bit of news for the Pistons: Willie Reed, acquired along with Griffin, began serving a six-game suspension for a domestic violence incident from last summer. Van Gundy said the Pistons were made aware during the trade call with the NBA that the investigation was nearing a conclusion and Reed was likely to be suspended.

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