Jackson closes strong as Pistons rally back from another double-digit deficit
Jordan Johnson (NBAE/Getty)
MINNEAPOLIS – The Pistons didn’t get a ton of favorable bounces for the first 47 minutes and 54 seconds Sunday night. But they got two in the last six seconds and that explains the buoyant mood of a flight home to deliver them to their date with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jimmy Butler had two chances to tie in those final six seconds – the first after getting fouled by Avery Bradley while shooting a game-tying 3-point attempt and making his first two foul shots, the second at the buzzer from the 3-point arc – and failed both times.
“I thought we covered very well and fought very hard and then I thought Reggie (Jackson) made terrific plays and then you’ve still got to get lucky,” Stan Van Gundy said after the 100-97 win salvaged the last of a three-game road trip begun with tough losses to Milwaukee and Indiana. “Jimmy Butler, who’s a great free-throw shooter, missed one. That’s what it comes down to. I know everybody wants to discount the luck part. Our guys made the same effort, defended just as much, but we needed a little bit of a break.”
For most of the night, it just didn’t seem like the Pistons would ever put themselves in position to benefit from a fortunate bounce. They trailed 17-8 early and after briefly rallying to take a 39-32 lead in the second quarter, trailed by four to eight points until Minnesota opened it to double digits late in the third quarter. It was still an 11-point game with 10 minutes to play when the Pistons started to chip away.
With seven minutes left, Van Gundy brought Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris back with the Pistons down five. Jackson was brilliant down the stretch, scoring nine points on 4 of 4 shooting, dishing out four assists and grabbing two rebounds. With the score 86-79 a possession after his re-entry, Jackson was then responsible for the Pistons next 19 points, scoring nine himself, setting up Bradley for two huge corner triples and feeding Anere Drummond for a layup on a dazzling pass and for a lob dunk.
Those 19 points spanned nine possessions – all of them ending with a Pistons score.
“Reggie Jackson was being Reggie Jackson,” Drummond said. “Under five minutes to play, just give that man the basketball and let him play.”
It helped that Drummond was being Drummond, too. After a fairly lethargic first half, Drummond had 11 points and 12 boards in the second half to finish with 20 and 16 despite having his left arm go number and having to exit the game midway through the third quarter before the feeling returned. Bradley and Harris finished with 18 apiece, Harris hitting two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to set up Butler’s buzzer heave for the tie.
“He’s a game-time player, so when he shot the ball, it’s like, hopefully that (bleep) comes out,” Drummond grinned. “It was an open shot for him and it’s a shot he takes all the time, so I’m glad it went out and we got a win.”
Jackson, too, fully expected Butler to tie the game at the foul line. After Butler made the first two, he seemed upset with something said, perhaps by Jackson, and gave him a sour look, though he said after the game it had nothing to do with his miss.
“Not gonna lie,” Jackson said of his expectation that the Pistons would have to make a final shot to win after Butler sank the third foul shot. “He’s a great free-throw shooter. He’s just a great player. He’s poised. He’s one of the closers in this league. The ball bounced our way, fortunately, but I definitely expected him to make that and for Coach to draw up a great play for us to get a good look.”
No doubt, it would have been a Jackson-Drummond pick and roll, a play the Pistons ran every time downcourt after Jackson’s re-entry.
“I thought Reggie was making good plays tonight, so we ran a steady diet of Reggie pick and rolls down the stretch,” Van Gundy said. “He made great decisions and great passes. The pass to Andre was incredible. And then he had the skip pass to the corner to Avery. He made a lot of good plays. Then they finally defended the hell out of it on the last one and he hit a huge step-back. To me, this was his best finish of the year.”
It was also, perhaps, the Pistons best finish of the season, considering the circumstances as they faced their first crisis point coming off their first loss of consecutive games. Van Gundy diversified the offense this year so the Pistons become less dependent on Jackson’s pick-and-roll panache, but he remains their closer.
“It’s something Coach and I have talked about,” Jackson said. “We’re going to open it up a lot to start the game, just trying to find out who’s hot. We’ve got a lot of scorers. We’ve got guys who can score in different ways. Dre’s great with the ball in his hands. But down the stretch, I always know he’s going to give me the ball.”
When he does things like he did Sunday to give the Pistons a memorable win – piloting nine straight successful possessions in crunch time – it makes Van Gundy’s decision of what to call at winning time pretty, pretty easy.