Jennings' 20-20 vision carries Pistons to 128-point outburst, win over Magic
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Stan Van Gundy remains a staunch believer that the rise of the Pistons will be propelled by their defense, the same way the Bad Boys and the Goin' to Work era Pistons built championship teams.
He's just as convinced that great teams do whatever the situation requires.
Wednesday required the Pistons to score points by the fistful. And so they did. The bad news: The Pistons gave up a season-high 118 points to Orlando. The good news: They still won by 10 points.
"A big win for us," Van Gundy said. "Some nights you do it one way and other nights you do it another. Tonight we did it with our offense. It was a high-scoring game and we were able to get it done."
Big win, indeed. In a lot of ways. First, because one game after they struggled to score 82 points at Atlanta, they showed the resiliency to win when they had to outscore somebody. Second, because it maintained their post-Christmas string of not losing consecutive games, running their record over the past month to 12-3 to save their season. Third, because they gave up all but two of a 21-point lead, then went on a 14-2 run to chase away the ghosts of all those blown leads that turned into home defeats in recent seasons.
It earned them a postgame pep talk from owner Tom Gores, who sat courtside and told his team he was proud of the way they fought back from their 5-23 start to put themselves in the thick of a playoff chase.
"I think that's just our growth," said Brandon Jennings, spectacular in posting the first 20-point, 20-assist Pistons game (24 points, 21 assists) since some guy named Isiah Thomas went 20 and 20 on April 4, 1985, before the Pistons had any NBA titles under their belt. "We probably, if you asked us last year, we'd fold and they'd just take over the game. That's just our growth and everybody trusting each other and everybody taking shots. We're confident. Just maturing and learning how to win."
"We came into a timeout and everybody gathered themselves and just came out and started getting stops," Greg Monroe said. "Started to get back to our pace that we were playing at, got some big buckets, got to the free-throw line and that was basically it."
Van Gundy might want to burn the second-half videotape for the 70 points the Pistons surrendered, 32 of them in the paint, but he'll remember the fight his team exhibited when Orlando's 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter pulled the Magic within two points.
"It's a learning experience. We have a lot more experience this year playing from behind than we do from ahead and our defense in the second half, it wasn't good at all," he said. "But we did a great job, after they got the game back to (two), we gathered ourselves very, very well. I was really happy with that. A lot of times you can let those get away and it just goes the other way and to gather ourselves and come back with a double-digit victory, I thought really showed a lot for our team and was a good step forward."
Jennings had a little to do with stemming Orlando's surge, too. Van Gundy brought him back with 7:51 to play and the lead down to three. He scored five points and added the last five of his assists as the lead quickly swelled. The Pistons were 24 points better than Orlando over Jennings' 33 minutes. Not only did they score an astounding 30 points in those last eight minutes after his fourth-quarter return – the Pistons scored 30 or more in all four quarters – but after he re-entered with 2:58 left in the second quarter the Pistons outscored Orlando 13-4 to take a 17-point halftime lead.
"That was phenomenal," Van Gundy said. "We missed, I'm going to say, half a dozen layups. He could have had 25 assists easily tonight. Great bounce back. He had a tough game the other day in Atlanta, came back tonight and was great."
Jennings picked up assists on Detroit's first five baskets as the Pistons established a double-digit lead in the game's first five minutes. He was off and running.
"It was definitely the five assists that got me going," he said. "Once I got in the lane, I just knew I could be in the lane all night. I just started picking my poison."
He knew he had 11 assists at halftime and knew his career high, 19, was within reach. He had 16 when the third quarter ended. His 20th came spectacularly, a lob that Andre Drummond one-handed forcefully through the rim. The biggest one of the game might have been No. 17 when he found Anthony Tolliver in the corner for a triple with 4:32 left that put the Pistons up 11 and seemed to finally expel the last gasp of hope from Orlando's lungs.
"When I got back in, I just kept attacking," said Jennings, who committed just two turnovers. "Tolliver hit a big three in the corner and after that, I just felt like we ran with it."
Jennings wasn't the only Piston putting up video game numbers. Monroe – fed for seven first-half baskets by Jennings, all but one a layup or dunk – had 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Andre Drummond finished with 26 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots and – after going 3 of 12 at the foul line and sitting out the fourth quarter because of it two days ago at Atlanta – made 6 of 8 foul shots. He was at his best over the last seven minutes upon returning for Monroe, when the Pistons made their final push, with 11 points, six boards, three steals and two blocks.
"Greg dominated the first half," Van Gundy said. "Looked a little tired in the second half, was having trouble getting the ball up at the rim. Andre did a really good job, was more of a defensive presence, rebounded the ball and made his free throws. It was a great second half by him."
"We do a great job of fighting," Drummond said. "There's never a perfect game. Teams find ways to come back; everybody goes on runs. We do a good job of fighting and we're doing a great job of closing games."
And doing it by any means necessary.