Jackson's monster night lifts Pistons past Memphis to snap 10-game skid

Reggie Jackson finished with 23 points and 20 assists in his finest moment with the Pistons, who snapped a 10-game losing streak.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy's clear preference is to lock up Greg Monroe for the long haul when free agency opens in July. But the Pistons got a glimpse of what a Monroe-less future might look like and it was ... well, downright exhilarating, at least for one night.

It was about as unlikely a matchup as possible if you were to choose the circumstances under which the Pistons would snap their losing streak, which had reached 10 games. They were coming off a four-game Western road swing, playing without Monroe – missing just his second game in five years due to injury after suffering a right knee strain in Monday's practice –and, by the way, going up against one of the West powers, Memphis.

Then Reggie Jackson went out and put up 23 points and 20 assists, the Pistons scored 66 points in the second half after limping to 39 in the first half – when they fell behind by 17 points – and they pulled away down the stretch for a 105-95 win. That came one game after Jackson hit his low point of a 1-10 tenure as Pistons point guard, going without an assist in 28 minutes at Utah. His teammates got in his ear on the return flight home and that, he said, made a world of difference in his demeanor Tuesday.

"Definitely. Sometimes I get a little in my head, thinking, 'Did I shoot too much or am I being too passive?' Just play the game. They kept telling me to just be aggressive and if there's a shot open seven straight times, take the shot seven straight times, and if it's a pass seven straight times, just pass it."

One of the mentors in his ear, Tayshaun Prince, offered some insightful analysis after Jackson became the second Piston this season with a 20-point, 20-assist game, matching a Brandon Jennings outing. (The Pistons thus become the only NBA team since such records have been kept to have two players hit those benchmarks in the same season.)

"I've been talking to Reggie after every game," Prince said. "I told him don't get frustrated. Because when you play in Oklahoma City, where there's four shooters around you, that lane opens up like the ocean. You can just wine and dine all night long. When you're playing with Greg and (Andre Drummond), it's going to be tight quarters in there. It's taking him a while to read that.

"Tonight, with only one big in there, it was kind of like Oklahoma City all over again where he can get in there and make those plays he usually makes. Obviously, we miss Greg, but the thing is, when Greg is out, now we've got to spread the floor and play basketball and that's obviously what his strong suit is."

"That's a phenomenal game," Van Gundy said. "To have 20 assists in any game is phenomenal. He was really on the attack. He was in the paint and was finding people. He attacked the rim himself tonight and got all the way to the rim a few times. It was the best game he's played since he's been here."

He wasn't the only one. Anthony Tolliver, starting for Monroe, hit 4 of 9 triples, grabbed seven boards and battled the ever-crafty Randolph hard all night. Drummond went for 16 points, 16 boards and five blocked shots and was at the center of a great defensive effort against Memphis' boffo interior combo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Those two combined for only six points and five rebounds after halftime. He also made two huge free throws with 2:20 to play and the Pistons nursing a five-point lead.

"I thought Andre had a great second half," Van Gundy said. "He was challenging shots, rebounding the ball, rolling hard and taking things strong. I thought the biggest part of the game was when he went to the line and made two free throws. There was just a different feel on the bench when he did that."

Jackson, Drummond ... that's two of the tent poles of Van Gundy's team of the future. The third – if they can't sway Monroe back to the fold, at least – is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and he took another assertive step forward.

Struggling mightily from the 3-point line of late (6 of 38 over his last six), Caldwell-Pope missed three early triples, then got himself going with forceful drives. It didn't hurt that Jackson found him early with some dazzling passes in transition, but Caldwell-Pope kick-started himself by putting the ball on the floor and using his athleticism and quickness to score at the rim. Sixteen of his game-high 24 points came in the third quarter when the Pistons outscored Memphis 36-22.

"By me attacking the rim and just staying aggressive, I got a rhythm going," said Caldwell-Pope, whose 24 points came on 16 shots. "It did loosen me up a little bit. I got my rhythm by me attacking the basket and then getting to the free-throw line, getting easy buckets."

"He did great," Jackson said. "Everybody knows what he does defensively for us. He's going to battle. He hates to be scored on. You've got to love that about him. Once he made one, it looked like the lid came off the basket. He was attacking the rim strong and putting the ball on the deck. That's what he's capable of. We all understand we've got a lot of young players, including myself still, so we're just trying to battle and figure out how to bring it each and every day. He really lit a fire under our team and helped us get this win."

A win that seemed highly improbable when the night began, but one that lifted the mood in a locker room that Van Gundy has admired for its resilience.

"This group hasn't quit," he said. "The second half was great. As frustrated as we all are with the record, I do think you have to admire a team that has gone through the things these guys have gone through to continue to play as hard as they have played. Even on that West Coast trip, as the losses mounted up. No matter what comes up, this team has played hard. I like that team in the locker room. We just have to play better."

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night's 105-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies...

SLAM DUNK – In his first game since a tentative, assist-free night in a loss at Utah and an earful from teammates on the flight home to relax and play with more aggressiveness and freedom, Reggie Jackson showed he is an excellent listener. Jackson might have played his best half as a Piston in Tuesday's first 24 minutes. His second half was even better, Jackson putting up 11 points points and 13 assists after halftime as the Pistons erased a 17-point deficit to win 105-95, snapping their 10-game losing streak and beating the 47-21 Memphis Grizzlies. Jackson finished with 23 points and 20 assists, making the Pistons the first team in at least 30 years to have two players with a 20-point, 20-assist game in the same season. (Brandon Jennings also did it.) Jackson's backcourt partner, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, struck a positive response to his current 3-point slump – he came into the game having made 6 of his last 38 and missed three more in the first quarter – by being much more assertive taking the ball to the basket to finish with a team-high 24 points, 16 in the third quarter when the Pistons scored 36 points after being limited to 39 in the first half. Andre Drummond finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

FREE THROW – Stan Van Gundy went into the season thinking that two Pistons strengths would be 3-point shooting and depth. And when the Pistons ripped off a 12-3 stretch in the wake of their 5-23 start and the waiving of Josh Smith to reshuffle the rotation, those were two overarching positives. But the injury to Brandon Jennings and the trade-deadline deals that cost them depth in return for what Van Gundy expects to be the long-term answer at point guard – Jackson, given Jennings' injury and contract status with only one year remaining – has set them back to square one on both counts. The Pistons had one of their best 3-point nights in a while, finishing 12 of 33 with Anthony Tolliver knocking down four. Fully healthy and before the trade deadline, the Pistons were bringing D.J. Augustin, Tolliver, Jodie Meeks, Jonas Jerebko and Caron Butler off the bench most nights. On Tuesday, with Tolliver starting, the bench was rookie Spencer Dinwiddie, Joel Anthony, Shawne Williams and veteran Tayshaun Prince. Prince had a terrific 25 minutes, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds, and Dinwiddie put in solid fourth-quarter minutes to give Jackson a breather.

3-POINTER – Perhaps Greg Monroe's most underrated attribute is his durability. Much improved as a defender and a constantly evolving scorer, Monroe missed only his second game due to injury in his five-year career against Memphis. He didn't play in the first two games of his rookie season – strictly the decision of then-coach John Kuester – and missed the first two games of this season due to an NBA suspension. Other than that, the only game Monroe had missed prior to Tuesday came in the 2012-13 season when he was sidelined one game with a sprained ankle. He suffered a mild knee strain in Monday's practice. "We were a little worried, but the MRI was good," Stan Van Gundy said before Tuesday's game. "He should be OK." The Pistons play at Philadelphia on Wednesday, then are off until hosting Chicago on Saturday. Despite the 10-game losing streak the Pistons carried into Tuesday, Monroe had been playing superbly, averaging 19 points while shooting .514. The win over Memphis was the first for the Pistons without Monroe in the lineup since he joined the team.

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