No breathing room, but Pistons pull out a win in Griffin’s debut
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Blake Griffin’s offense put the Pistons in position to win the game. His defense got the save.
With Memphis star Marc Gasol carrying his undermanned team and Andre Drummond saddled with five fouls, Stan Van Gundy sat Drummond and used Griffin at center over the final three minutes of the 104-102 win.
Memphis, which began the fourth quarter by hitting 8 of 10 shots, missed its last 10. Gasol hit a pair of free throws with 3:09 to play when Griffin fouled him to tie the game at 98, but he missed his last three shots including one with about 15 seconds left when Griffin forced a very difficult mid-range attempt. Anthony Tolliver wound up taking a jump ball with 10 seconds to go and the Pistons hung on.
“He’s pretty good defensively,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he had some great defensive possessions down the stretch – great block, two great possessions against Gasol. He can move his feet; he’s strong as hell. He’s good. He’s better defensively than what he’s given credit for.”
The offense wasn’t bad either. Griffin finished with 24 points, 10 boards and five – could have, should have been more – assists. He shot six of his 13 free throws in the first six minutes, setting the tone on a night the Pistons would take 37 foul shots to Memphis’ 14.
And he did all of that off of one measly morning shootaround. Griffin’s first game with the Pistons preceded his first practice, which comes Friday. He’s looking forward to having a few more plays in his arsenal.
“It’s going to take (Van Gundy) and I sitting down and watching film together,” Griffin said. “I got the ball a ton tonight, so I’m not worried about that. We’ve just got to be more efficient in our sets. And having more than five plays – or, really, four plays – to run will be nice.”
“I think that just sort of scratched the surface. I really do,” Van Gundy said. “Twenty-four, 10, five assists. I don’t know if the numbers will always be that, but I didn’t have a really good framework in for him to work out. He was just having to create stuff on his own. I think maybe we can help him a little bit more than we did tonight.”
Van Gundy saw other scoring chances for Griffin that his teammates missed simply because they’re unaccustomed to looking for a player in the spots where Griffin can set up to great effect. And he felt they didn’t make the best use of Griffin for the stretch run after he returned with seven minutes left and the Pistons trailing 91-89.
“Until very late in the game, we didn’t really get the ball in his hands enough in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That’s why you have those guys is to ride them in that stretch. I’ll take a lot of the blame for that. We haven’t done a good job in our hour and 15 minutes of building that framework yet.”
Griffin did have the ball on virtually every possession once Drummond sat, though, and it was his setup that created the game-winning shot: Anthony Tolliver’s triple with 1:49 to play to put the Pistons ahead 101-100. On the next two possessions, he made equally impressive feeds to produce open threes for Reggie Bullock and Tolliver, each missing on a night the Pistons hit just 7 of 25 from the arc.
“He’s a willing passer and a great passer,” Tolliver said. “As a shooter, I can’t really ask for much more. Whenever you have a guy who demands a lot of attention and he’s willing to make a pass and is not going to force it, it’s like a dream for a guy like me. He’s a special player. He’s going to be great for us.”
Bullock, who played with Griffin when he broke into the NBA with the Clippers, wasn’t surprised to see him battle Gasol at the defensive end, either.
“He’s one of the strongest guys in the league,” he said. “He’ll be able to hold his own, but with his size and physicality that he brings to the game it’s easy for him to switch on to bigger guys.”
Griffin reiterated his sentiments voiced Wednesday at his introductory press conference regarding his appreciation for the passion of Pistons fans, experienced firsthand for the first time while wearing their jersey.
“They were awesome,” he said. “The fans here, for the Pistons and sports in general, are incredible. You could feel the energy tonight and that was a big boost for us, big boost for me.”
Tolliver took a minute before the game to pull Griffin and Drummond together and give them his perspective on how they should approach their union.
“When you have two super dynamic players that have never played with each other before, sometimes there’s a tendency to defer. ‘Let me make sure I get out of his way.’ I just told them both, hey, just be aggressive, play your game, do what you normally do and you guys will figure it out. We’ll all figure out.”
It wasn’t a straight-line path to victory, but they got there, winning a game they needed to bank in the win column if they hope to be in shape to sprint to the finish line once Reggie Jackson returns from injury.
“I think we need to get healthy,” Griffin said. “We’ve missed Reggie in a big way. He’s so talented. I look at this as they’ve been building a foundation and we’re adding to that. I’m very excited about the future – this season especially, but the future in general. We’ve got a high ceiling with this group.”