Ho-hum: another comeback win from double digits as Pistons win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – When the Pistons came off their perfect 5-0 home stand, whatever euphoria they might have felt was blunted by a peek at their schedule. Nine of their next 11 games were on the road. Among the two teams with sub-.500 records of those 11 opponents was Oklahoma City.

It was tough to pick out where the wins would come.

The Pistons aren’t out of the woods yet, but they’re 2-3 so far – both comeback road wins from 11 points down in the second half five days apart at Minnesota and Oklahoma City. Friday’s was much like Sunday’s in that it hung in the balance until a star player’s winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer spun out – Jimmy Butler at Minnesota, Russell Westbrook at Oklahoma City.

“It’s huge,” Ish Smith said. “Huge. We’ve been resilient all year. Felt like the Minnesota game. We just kind of hung around and they don’t knock us out. We just kind of did a standing eight count.”

“It’s great,” said Reggie Jackson, who hit two free throws with 34 seconds left to put the Pistons ahead by three points. “We started off hot. We know we have one of the toughest stretches in this span in the league. We know we’ve got a lot on the road against great playoff teams from last year. Going into these buildings is going to be tough, but as long as we stay together and we stay with the same camaraderie and we keep picking each other up, we’ve got a great chance. But it’s always great to get a win on the road.”

Oklahoma City has been a dichotomous team, winning blowouts – 7-0 in games decided by 10 or more points – but losing every close game. Friday’s loss left the Thunder at 0-9 in games decided by eight points or less.

The Pistons were teetering on the verge of having it be one of those blowout losses when they fell behind by double digits in the first quarter. What disappointed Stan Van Gundy most about the first half?

“Where I was upset and talked to our team was our rebounding,” he said. “It was 14-0 second-chance points in the first half and we’re down 10. That’s the game. And that’s controllable for us. I thought we fought a lot harder in the second half. We had 14 turnovers in the second half, so it’s not like we played great. But we fought really, really hard. That’s what ended up getting us the win.”

Nobody embodied the first half-second half schism more than Andre Drummond. He had four points and two rebounds at halftime, 13 and 12 in the second half when he played all 24 minutes.

“Coach came in and I don’t want to say the specifics of what he said because there might be a lot of words you guys can’t bleep, but he got us going,” Smith grinned. “He was telling us they were manhandling us on the boards and Dre, that’s what he does. He’s the best rebounder in the NBA, so he took that personal and the second half was history.”

Smith was the strongest of a bench unit that outscored its OKC counterparts 35-13. Langston Galloway hit two triples and Smith a driving layup early in the fourth quarter to give the Pistons their first lead and another Smith layup, this one with 8:27 left, put the Pistons ahead for good – but never by more than four points.

Luke Kennard and Avery Bradley hit subsequent big 3-point shots, both to put the Pistons ahead by four. Bradley’s came with two minutes to go. Russell Westbrook’s driving layup with 28 seconds left pulled the Thunder within a point and they had the chance to win after Jackson missed a runner, OKC getting the ball back with five seconds to play.

Bradley, guarding Westbrook, knew what was coming.

“They actually ran the same play they ran before when he drove to the basket and I had a feeling they were going to do it,” Bradley said. “I just told myself I’m not going to let him go to the basket this time. Force him to take a tough shot.”

He did and, just like Butler five days earlier, it missed and the Pistons had a precious, precious win amid a stretch where every win is one they hold closely to their hearts.

“You’ve got to fight and you’ve just go to dig out a couple and stay in it,” Van Gundy said of the perilous stretch of games his team is amid. “Yeah, it was a huge like. Like the Minnesota game. Our guys fought hard. That was all I talked about at halftime. I just thought our commitment to trying to get the job done was a lot higher in the second half.”