KCP hits another big late 3 as Pistons win 2nd straight on the road
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SACRAMENTO – It's a little too early to consider Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the closer for the Pistons, but you can't show much more poise under pressure than he has the last two nights. After his tiebreaker triple gave the Pistons the lead for good at Phoenix on Friday – with the weight of a 13-game losing streak weighing his team down – Caldwell-Pope drained another big three Saturday to give the Pistons their first consecutive road wins of the season.
This one came on a night the second-year shooting guard from Georgia didn't otherwise make much of a dent on the offensive end. The triple that put the Pistons ahead by seven points with 1:35 to play was only his second basket of the game on just his sixth shot. But there wasn't the hint of hesitation as he took the ball in the left corner in front of Sacramento's bench – just as he hit one in proximity to Phoenix's bench 24 hours earlier – and released his trademark high-arc jump shot.
"It shows that he doesn't doubt himself," said another Georgian, Josh Smith. "He's playing with a lot of confidence and that's what we need him to do. He's a 3-point shooter, him and Jodie (Meeks) both, and even though they might not be able to make early jumpers we want them to continue to shoot because they can be difference makers and the last two games have shown that."
Meeks, the third Georgian stocking the roster, didn't have any juice in his legs one night after playing 22 minutes in his season debut, missing all four of his 3-point attempts. The Pistons had trouble knocking down jump shots, finishing 6 of 20 from the 3-point arc, but after losing a string of games in which they shot less than 40 percent the sneaker was on the other foot this time: Sacramento shot just 36 percent and needed a hail of 3-pointers in the final minute – three from Ben McLemore, taken one spot ahead of Caldwell-Pope in the 2013 draft – to make it that respectable.
"The main thing was our defense," Stan Van Gundy said. "Holding them to 35 percent was good."
With DeMarcus Cousins out due to illness, Van Gundy focused the defense on limiting Rudy Gay and keeping Darren Collison out of the paint. He toyed with the idea of starting the big lineup again and matching Smith on Gay, but instead gave the assignment to Kyle Singler.
"Kyle and our team defense," Van Gundy said. "I thought we did a good job. We double teamed him in the post, we trapped him on pick and rolls. We didn't want him getting into any kind of rhythm. He's such a good player. We didn't want him getting into a rhythm where he was coming off, shooting that pull-up and knocking it down."
Gay wound up scoring 20 to lead the Kings, but he made just 6 of 22 shots. And Collison was even more benign, hitting 1 of 10 to finish with three points and seven assists. The Kings, in addition to cold shooting, also turned the ball over 17 times. All that kept the Pistons from running away was Sacramento's offensive rebounding; the Kings held a 55-43 rebounding advantage, 22-8 on the offensive end.
Some of that was Andre Drummond picking up two fouls eight seconds apart early in the second quarter, limiting him to 10 first-half minutes and zero rebounds. He finished with 12 points and 10 boards, but the workhorses up front were Smith and Greg Monroe, who combined for 45 points and 21 rebounds. Smith logged 38 minutes and – for the second straight year in Sacramento – put up eye-popping numbers across the board: 21 points on 9 of 16 shooting, 13 boards, five assists, five blocks and two steals – numbers that made his seven turnovers palatable.
"He played really hard," Van Gundy said. "At times he tries to do too much. He tries to make too many difficult plays, but he did a lot. Put it this way: He does what Josh Smith at his best does, he fills up the stat sheet, does a lot of things. There's just one column we wouldn't like to fill up quite as much."
"I just wanted to play aggressive," Smith said. "Be efficient, start inside-out and whenever I had that ball at the elbow or in the high post, just make quick decisions."
The game turned in the third quarter when Sacramento missed its first 10 shots and the Pistons quickly turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead. They got sloppy at the end of the quarter, going seven straight possessions without a point, and cracked the door for Sacramento get back in the game. Another flurry of Sacramento offensive rebounds resulted in free throws for Ryan Hollins that pulled the Kings within four with two minutes to play, leading to Cadlwell-Pope's huge triple.
"He hit a huge one again," Van Gundy said. "As I've said, he's done that four or five times this year. It's great to see. He's obviously got no fear whatsoever in the fourth quarter."
"It was what he gave me," Caldwell-Pope said. "I wanted to come off a screen, but he went under it so I just stepped back and knocked down the three. Once my mind's made up, that's what I'm going to do. There's no second guessing."
It was the first back-to-back road wins against Western Conference opponents since 2010 for the Pistons, who have a shot to go for a clean sweep of their three-game trip Monday night against the Clippers.
"We've got to be able to piggyback on these wins," Smith said. "See what we did correctly in these games. We didn't get discouraged when both of those teams made runs at us and we stayed poised in the moment. That's what we have to do in order to win games – play together on the defensive end and share the ball offensively."