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