Jennings-Augustin backcourt sparks big 4th-quarter rally as Pistons win at Atlanta


The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – – The Pistons came back from 13 down early in the fourth quarter and hung on to beat Atlanta 104-100 to wrap up their three-game preseason road trip with a 2-1 record, making them 4-2 overall. Brandon Jennings, who entered the game shooting 25 percent in preseason and was 3 of 16 from the 3-point line, hit three fourth-quarter triples to get the rally started. Stan Van Gundy utilized a Jennings-D.J. Augustin backcourt in the fourth quarter and they combined to score 20 points in the period. Jennings finished with 16 points and Augustin with 14. Andre Drummond played 38 minutes, easily his longest preseason stint, and put up 19 points and 16 rebounds plus three blocked shots.

BLUE COLLAR – Stan Van Gundy shortened his rotation to eight in the first half, meaning Jonas Jerebko didn’t get into the game until midway through the third quarter with the Pistons back on their heels. He helped change the tone with a hard foul on Jeff Teague that elicited a response and earned Teague a technical foul. Jerebko played the next 10 minutes and contributed seven points, four rebounds and an assist. But his impact superseded his stats, which has always been Jerebko as his best. He came on in the last two minutes when Greg Monroe fouled out and helped preserve the win.

RED FLAG – The Pistons might have had a commanding halftime lead instead of a slim 54-52 edge if they had finished out each of the first two quarters. They led 27-18 with 2:36 to play in the first, then committed three turnovers on the final five possessions and saw their lead cut to 29-26. They led by eight points with 2:09 to play in the second quarter, then committed two turnovers and missed four shots on their final six possessions.

ATLANTA – Was it Stan Van Gundy’s “teachable moment” timeouts or Brandon Jennings’ three 3-pointers that fueled a remarkable fourth-quarterly rally and earned the Pistons a 104-100 win over Atlanta?

“I don’t know,” Van Gundy grinned after the Pistons used a 24-5 run to bump their preseason record to 4-2, 2-1 on the three-game road trip wrapped up with the win. “I felt like we were letting the game go. Exhibition game, it’s back-to-back nights, we’re tired. But they responded really, really well, played hard down the stretch, rebounded the ball, worked their butt off to defend.”

The Pistons trailed by 12 after Van Gundy’s second timeout, both sparked by Atlanta big men Al Horford and Mike Scott getting fast-break baskets when the Pistons were slow to get back. Andre Drummond hung on the rim after missing a dunk to produce Horford’s chance, then he thought he got fouled and provided Scott’s opening.

“I just sort of calmly asked ’em for a little more effort,” Van Gundy deadpanned. “It was not anger. I said the same thing to them before the game: We can win. We can. But we’ve got to do the things it takes to win every night. It’s not easy and sometimes we don’t do those things. We give away too many possessions just from not competing hard enough or playing tough enough and there’s habits to change. When you’ve lost for a long time, you get into losing habits. So it’s really pointing it out and I think they want to change. It’s just got to be more consistent.”

Jennings hit his first fourth-quarter 3-pointer out of that timeout to cut Atlanta’s lead to nine. It went back to 13 a minute later, with 7:56 to play, but then the Pistons took a machete to Atlanta’s cushion. Jennings got the Pistons within three points with triples on consecutive trips and they took the lead for good on two Greg Monroe free throws with 3:18 to play.

“Finally – finally the ball went in this preseason,” said Jennings, who came into the game shooting 25 percent from the field and under 20 percent from the 3-point arc, but hit 4 of 6 from deep at Atlanta. “Hopefully I got all my little preseason missing shots out of the way because I’ve worked so hard this summer on my shot, so hopefully this is a start.”

Jennings finished with 16 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. The rest of his game has been better than fine in the preseason and was again: 11 assists, 1 turnover. He also grabbed four rebounds, and Van Gundy beamed about a tough defensive board he grabbed in the final minute to take a possession away from the frantic Hawks.

Born of necessity with the injuries to shooting guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks, Van Gundy used Jennings in tandem with D.J. Augustin in the fourth quarter and just might have found another card to play. The pair combined for 20 points, four assists and one turnover in the period.

“I feel like Kobe at the two,” Jennings joked. “But with D.J. out there, just another playmaker. We were just making plays. Especially with our two guards being out right now, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”

“We went with the small lineup and that kind of causes problems for the other team,” said Augustin, who finished with 14 points and four assists. “We both can use pick and rolls pretty well and make decisions and make plays for our teammates, and on the defensive end we were quick enough to stay in front of our man and also help out with the big guys.”

Van Gundy isn’t quite ready to proclaim it a staple of his rotation, but in certain matchups he won’t likely hesitate to go back to a combination that shows such promise.

“It gave us a chance to make more plays because our other guys are basically cutters and shooters. But they’re not guys who can make plays off the dribble, so it’s hard to get to a second pick and roll,” he said. “When those two guys play together our skill level goes way up. Especially when we don’t have either Jodie or KCP, it’s tough. We don’t have a lot of guys who can create on the perimeter, so having those two guys in there together helped.”

Van Gundy had used his big lineup – Drummond, Monroe and Josh Smith – to start the last two games, but brought Monroe off the bench in this one as he prepares for the first two regular-season games, when Monroe will be unavailable while serving a two-game NBA suspension. He said he might keep Monroe out altogether in Thursday’s preseason finale, by which time newly acquired Joel Anthony should be available for backup minutes behind Drummond.

They might be sparing minutes if Drummond plays as he did in Atlanta. The few missteps when he didn’t get back in transition aside, Drummond was superb with 19 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots in 38 minutes.

“He was much better tonight,” Van Gundy said. “There were still a couple of times he didn’t get back in transition. We’ve got to get that out – not just of him, of everybody. You’ve got to get on to the next play and you’ve got to make a full effort all the time.”

They certainly did for the last nine minutes, after their new coach made it clear old habits won’t cut it. And preseason or not, coming back from 13 down in the final nine minutes against a playoff team using its primary players on the road ... well, it can’t hurt, right?

“I know last year we would have definitely just folded,” Jennings said. “It would’ve gotten uglier and uglier. But for us to keep fighting and keep playing hard, that just shows a lot, even though it’s preseason. Now with one more game left, you’ve got to start getting into that real-season mode right now.”