A loud statement from Blake Griffin (44 points) helps Pistons win his homecoming game
Andrew D. Berstein (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations on Saturday afternoon’s 109-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center
HAPPY HOMECOMING – One thing the Clippers are missing since trading Blake Griffin: somebody who can guard Blake Griffin. Turns out you can go home again. Griffin, in his first game at Staples Center against the Clippers, was at his best. He scored 44 points, grabbed eight rebounds and passed for five assists – and should have had another handful for all the open shots he created for teammates – as the Pistons snapped a four-game losing streak with an emotional matinee win. It took a big play by somebody other than Griffin, though, to preserve the win. The Pistons went on a 10-2 run after the Clippers tied the game at 97 with less than five minutes to play, but then didn’t score on three straight possessions as the Clippers pulled within three and got the ball back with 33 seconds left. Rookie Bruce Brown then stole the ball from Lou Williams and hit two free throws with 20 seconds to play for a five-point lead. A missed Danilo Gallinari 3-pointer and it was over. Dwane Casey ran his starters heavy minutes with Griffin, Andre Drummond (20 points, 21 rebounds) and Reggie Jackson all logging more than 40. The fatigue was apparent, Jackson especially suffering against the oppressive ball pressure of Patrick Beverly. After shooting 3 of 5 in the first quarter, Jackson went 1 of 13. Griffin scored 15 points in 10 minutes of the first quarter and added 11 more in less than nine minutes of the second quarter, then nine in the third. He started the fourth quarter – at center, no less – and went the distance. The two Clippers starters who went to the Clippers for Griffin, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, combined to score 14 points, 11 for Harris.
NOT YET – Ish Smith missed his 19th game with a torn adductor muscle – the Pistons are now 5-14 in his absence – but he’s on the verge of return. He went from being listed “out” to “doubtful” for the first two games of their current road trip and to “questionable” for Saturday’s game. Dwane Casey indicated before tipoff that the fact the Pistons didn’t have a morning shootaround due to the 12:30 local tipoff tipped the scales toward delaying Smith’s return here. As the record indicates, he’s missed. The bench unit that was a distinct strength of the Pistons over the first quarter of the season has become a liability. The 13-point lead the Pistons built after one quarter was whittled to seven in less than four minutes to start the second quarter before Dwane Casey had to start waving starters back. Even though Reggie Jackson was clearly out of gas in the second half, Casey played Jose Calderon only eight minutes.
THOMAS TIME? – Are we getting close to having Khyri Thomas leapfrog someone to get in the rotation? Maybe. Dwane Casey turned to him in the second quarter when Bruce Brown picked up his third foul with 4:22 left. After talking to his staff, he went with Thomas – almost certainly because of defensive considerations. They needed somebody to guard explosive Clippers sixth man Lou Williams and Thomas – a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year – was an easy call. But Thomas also has the makings of a plus 3-point shooter – his form is about as pure as it gets – and, sure enough, he drained his only shot of the half, a corner triple. Brown didn’t get into any further foul trouble in the second half, so Thomas didn’t return after halftime. But he’s shown well in limited time, Casey raves about his competitiveness and it’s likely he’s doing to have an increased workload in the second half of the season.