KCP, Pistons bench rally from 18 down to score big win over Charlotte
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AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons finished 2-for-2 in winding up on the right side of the fine line between winning and losing in games at The Palace against Charlotte this season. If they wind up in the playoffs, remember those two wins: a 115-114 decision on Jan. 5 and Thursday’s wild 114-108 overtime win.
Both games featured improbable comebacks from 15 points down after three quarters, one by each side. Both saw the fourth quarter end with Marco Belinelli having a game-winning shot for Charlotte on his fingertips.
The Pistons blew all but one point of a 19-point lead to hang on to win in January when Belinelli’s banked triple at the buzzer came a fraction of a second late. Thursday it was a reverse script – the Pistons erased an 18-point deficit with 1:53 left in the third quarter – with the Pistons surviving Belinelli’s missed 3-point try at the buzzer.
“It’s an incredible win,” Stan Van Gundy said as the Pistons improved to 28-30 and opened a 1½-game lead over Milwaukee for the No. 8 playoff spot in the East while also pulling within a half-game of Chicago for seventh.
It took an incredible final few minutes from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored the team’s final 11 points of regulation in 2:17 on three triples and a driving dunk, and an inspired run from a bench led by Tobias Harris’ scoring, Ish Smith’s playmaking and a defensive spirit missing for the game’s first 34 minutes.
The Pistons held Charlotte scoreless for the last two minutes of the third quarter, then smothered them into 1 of 15 shooting to open the fourth quarter. And when it got to overtime, Charlotte went scoreless on its first five possessions and seven of eight.
“The bench,” Marcus Morris said to explain the turnaround. “The energy automatically went way up. Ish did a great job of moving the ball, getting everybody shots, and I felt like our defense picked up, too. I don’t know what it is, but once our offense picks up, our defense – it automatically happens.”
Smith’s 16 assists were the most off the bench in the NBA since Brevin Knight had 17 in 2005 and the most by a Pistons player since Kevin Porter’s 19 in 1977. The last Pistons player with 16 or more assists and just one turnover was Isiah Thomas, who posted the same 16:1 ratio against Washington on Nov. 9, 1993.
Smith played the game’s final 22 minutes as Reggie Jackson struggled to a four-point game on 1 of 6 shooting. Van Gundy knows the Pistons need their starting point guard playing a few rungs above that level to carry the season where they all want it to go. Andre Drummond (12 points, 13 rebounds) also sat the entire fourth quarter and overtime, though that was for other reasons, Van Gundy said.
“We’ve got to figure it out. We do. We need to get Reggie going. With Andre, it was more of a matchup thing. But we’ve got to get Reggie going and we’ve got to be able to play with the same energy and spirit that we do with Ish in the game.”
Smith hit just 2 of 12 shots, but the Pistons were plus-20 with him on the floor, minus-14 with Jackson. Only Morris, who scored seven of his 16 points in overtime and matched Charlotte’s overtime rebound total with three, finished in the black among Pistons starters at plus-3. Harris was plus-19, scoring 25 points and hitting 4 of 8 triples.
Caldwell-Pope finished with 33, the second-best output of his career, with 18 coming in the final 7:17 of regulation plus overtime.
“Big shots by KCP helped us all night,” Harris said. “When he’s hot like that, the only thing on our mind is to give him the basketball and let him make a play for us. That’s what he was able to do.”
His triple to tie the game at 100 with 18.2 seconds left was the first time the Pistons didn’t trail since midway through the second quarter when Charlotte answered a 12-0 Pistons run to lead 44-41 with a 21-6 run in the final six minutes of the half.
Kemba Walker was nearly as dynamic as Caldwell-Pope down the stretch in regulation, scoring Charlotte’s last nine points in 3:14. The Pistons made him give it up on the final possession, but the Hornets still swung the ball to the corner and then to Belinelli on the right wing for an open look to win it.
“Just hoping he misses,” Harris said of the thought going through his head as Belinelli lined up the shot. “He got a good look. A little bit of a flashback of last game. We did pretty much all we could and just live by the results.”
In the January win, Morris was guarding Belinelli as he took the ball out of bounds with less than a second to play. He said he baited Belinelli into throwing the ball of his back, knowing he wouldn’t have enough time to catch the carom and still get the shot off in time. This time, he was responsible for rotating to contest Belinelli’s shot and feared he might get there too late.
“I was the one closing out to him, so I was kind of like” – and here Morris gritted his teeth and winced. “I was maybe a step late. I was praying that he didn’t make it. We fought so hard, so it was kind of like one of those ‘he can’t make it.’ But he missed. So we got the win.”
A win they couldn’t afford to not come away with against a team that had lost 11 of 12 and was without starting center Cody Zeller and backup Miles Plumlee.
“We needed this one,” Harris said. “If you really look at it, this is our push, right now. We need every one we can get. That’s why tonight, it’s enjoyable because we never gave up. We kept pushing. We kept grinding.”