‘Nothing but grit and grind’ – Pistons scratch out a win without all 3 point guards

Luke Kennard
Luke Kennard scored 24 points and made some big plays in crunch time as the Pistons overcome extreme adversity to grind out a win over Brooklyn
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – When the Pistons envisioned a Big Three, it wasn’t Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown they had in mind, necessarily.

But NBA teams that exhibit any sort of staying power eventually have to make do with what they have and the Pistons embraced that challenge to the extreme on Saturday when faced with crippling adversity.

Not only were they without Reggie Jackson – the answer to his “lower-back tightness” that sidelined him late in preseason and flared in the season’s first week came back as a stress reaction that will see him re-evaluated in four weeks – but with both Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier, as well.

That’s the whole shebang at point guard on the depth chart, which meant Dwane Casey’s vision of Bruce Brown as NBA point guard was realized ahead of schedule.

Brown played 40 minutes, guarding Kyrie Irving for all of his 33 minutes on one end while putting up a line that Irving or any other All-Star point guard would take 82 games a year: 22 points, seven assists, zero turnovers.

“I didn’t have no turnovers?” Brown said, raising an eyebrow. “That’s tough. Because I was averaging a lot of turnovers before. That’s good, man.”

Uh-huh.

Look, that wasn’t a game the Pistons were supposed to win, their 113-109 decision against a Nets team everyone has doing big things this season after winning free agency on the heels of earning the No. 6 seed in the East last spring.

Not with a patchwork quilt at point guard. Not for a team missing what any reasonable assessment would say are their top three playmakers in Rose, Jackson and Blake Griffin.

“The satisfaction was the guys competed,” Dwane Casey said after the Pistons improved to 3-4 through seven games, all of them without Griffin. “We were down 14 in the third quarter. It was nothing but grit and grind to come back the way the guys did. We’ve got to be that way each and every night if we’re going to win in this league. We don’t have our superstars in Blake and Reggie and now Derrick, so we’re going to have to be a grit-and-grind, get-after-it type of team.”

The Pistons could get Rose back as soon as Monday – he sat out with hamstring tightness on a back to back – and it wouldn’t be a shocker if Griffin joined him. He’s close, at least. Whenever they get back, they’ll return to a team fortified by a win that bent the learning curve for Brown and Kennard and saw Drummond again exhibit ironman endurance.

Kennard finished with 24 points, 16 in the second half and four very important ones in the last 30 seconds, including a right-handed floater from 10 feet out and two free throws with 8.4 seconds left. Casey said Kennard was the focal point of Brooklyn’s defense.

“They were holding, grabbing him, not letting him come off of pin-downs,” he said. “That’s his next step of growth.”

Drummond recorded his third straight 20-20 over a four-night span, finishing with video game numbers: 25 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals in 39 minutes on a back to back. Without Griffin, Jackson and Rose, it was vital that his teammates see a Drummond who still displayed faith that a win was within their reach and nothing about his effort betrayed any doubts of that.

There are a handful of games each season that can define a team, games where players find out about the fiber of teammates and about the possibilities for a season. You can’t always identify those games in the moment, but put a sticky note on this one and refer back to it over the course of the next few months to see where it takes them.

The Pistons started strong despite their handicaps, rolling to 33 first-quarter points. But when Drummond and Brown went to the bench to start the second quarter, all momentum went with them. The Pistons struggled to 13 second-quarter points and trailed by double digits. They went down 64-50 in the third quarter before launching a 22-4 run to take the lead.

And when Irving – passive hunting his shots over the first three quarters – came back with the Nets down 12 and 8:39 to play, the Pistons answered the bell as Irving began delivering punishing haymakers, scoring 14 points down the stretch.

“We have a lot of guys that just want it,” Drummond said. “We have a lot of guys that have something to prove. Everybody that played tonight did exactly what they were supposed to do to put us in a good position to win.”

“Every win is a big one, but especially with some big leaders out for us, it’s huge,” Kennard said. “We’ve lost a couple now and we knew we needed one, no matter who was out. It says a lot about the group and the coaches. The way we stayed together and the way we fought, credit to them – credit to everybody. I’m just real proud of the way we fought tonight. I really am.”

“We got down, but we kept fighting,” Drummond said. “That was the story of the night.”

Fight will only take a team so far in a league where talent ultimately wins out, of course. But the Pistons have a few talented players – Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, most prominently – whose returns seem imminent. That fight will serve them very well when the talent injection is realized. Very well, indeed.

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