Meeks pays quick dividends as Pistons snap 13-game skid at Phoenix
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PHOENIX – OK, so maybe the Pistons wouldn't have been 22-0 coming into Phoenix if Jodie Meeks hadn't missed every one of those games. But they just as surely wouldn't have dragged a 13-game losing streak and a 3-19 record to town, either.
The Pistons are 1-0 with Meeks in the lineup and, yup, he had a lot to do with it, including setting up the biggest basket of the game to give the Pistons a lead they wouldn't lose and hitting two pressure-filled free throws with nine seconds left to clinch the 105-103 win over the Suns.
"I didn't get back gently," Meeks grinned after scoring 12 points and logging 22 minutes, entrusted with the most important ones at the end of the game. "Put in a pressure situation, but I was calm up there. I had a lot of confidence and just shot 'em easy and they went in."
The Pistons came into the game last in the NBA in shooting at just better than 40 percent but shot almost 48 percent to beat the Suns. Meeks didn't have everything to do with the improvement, but the speed at which he cuts and the quickness with which he moves the basketball greased the half-court offense whenever he was in the game.
Meeks fed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 to play to give the Pistons a three-point lead, Van Gundy using both shooting guards in the lineup at the end of each half.
"He's a guy who can run offense through," Van Gundy said of Meeks. "He's not just a shooter. That's one of the things when we signed him, people saw him as just a 3-point shooter. But he's a guy who can play on the move and make plays off the dribble. He certainly adds something and you can see we're going to have more options offensively with him. We got a chance to play he and KCP together quite a bit and probably the biggest bucket of the night was those two guys together."
The 3-pointer was especially sweet for Caldwell-Pope, who missed a triple at the buzzer when the Pistons lost to Phoenix last month at The Palace. Suns forward Markieff Morris after the game questioned Caldwell-Pope's heart. He judiciously avoided entering a war or words with Morris, but he couldn't help shoot a quick look at the Phoenix bench – inches from where he launched his dagger – after giving the Pistons the lead.
"I did kind of look at the bench," he said. "Man, just let 'em know, I do have heart. I will take that shot any day."
"He's knocked down some big shots for us," Van Gundy said. "You go back, he's made a lot of big fourth-quarter shots. That's not rare. He's four or five of those already this year and we've been in a lot of these games."
To finally win one came as an enormous relief to a team that couldn't help but feel snake bitten.
"We're certainly all happy that the streak is over, but then you've got a game tomorrow night," Van Gundy said. "It's not like we were writing '13' on the board and telling them what the record was. I was honest. It weighs heavily on everybody when you're going through that. This is just one, but at least you can breathe a little bit and then get ready for another one tomorrow night."
"Everybody's happy, smiling. Everybody was jumping around," Caldwell-Pope said. "it's a good vibe in here."
Caldwell-Pope finished with 14 points, Meeks with 12. The Pistons had six players finish in double figures and their bench outscored Phoenix's – considered one of the league's best – 36-26. Van Gundy came into training camp believing the bench would be a clear Pistons strength, but losing Meeks left them one important player short on the perimeter and cut into that anticipated depth.
Van Gundy started his big lineup of Andre Drummond (23 points, 14 rebounds), Greg Monroe (12 points, eight boards) and Josh Smith (12 points, 11 boards) and the Pistons crushed Phoenix on the glass, 30-19, in the first half. But the Suns scored too many transition points, so Van Gundy moved Monroe back to the bench and started Caron Butler at small forward in the second half.
Having another versatile perimeter player in Meeks gives Van Gundy that much more flexibility to move from one type of lineup to another in a league that increasingly requires a spectrum of options. And Meeks gives the Pistons something the offense desperately needed: another ballhandler with the ability to create.
"It'll take us some time to build a package for him, but we've been saying he's a guy that we can run offense through," Van Gundy said. "He gives us a chance to make some plays. He reads defenses really well."
Meeks probably played a little more than he might have expected but said he held up well.
"It felt good to be out there," Meeks aid. "I was glad I was able to help bring a win and against a good team in the West. ... I'm not always going to make shots, but the one thing I can control is bring a lot of energy, whether I'm on the bench talking or on the court. Hopefully, this can give us a spark. We've got another one tomorrow. It's going to be a quick turnaround."
Caldwell-Pope, also robbed of three weeks of preseason by a knee injury, has carried a heavy load with Meeks out. He'll benefit as much as anyone by his return and Van Gundy is going to look for every opportunity to use both simultaneously.
"It was great," Caldwell-Pope said of Meeks' return. "Jodie came in and gave us great minutes. He just went out there and played hard."