Pistons 2-0 in revenge games: Griffin sizzles in 44-point return
LOS ANGELES – The Pistons have a challenger for the season’s best win. And a blueprint for how they can go undefeated over the second half of the season.
It’s going to require some sleight of hand from Ed Stefanski, who simply needs to trade for a player from every future opponent in time to prompt an emotional groundswell from Pistons teammates and make all of their returns as triumphant as Blake Griffin’s.
“I hope we can play all the ex-teams,” Dwane Casey said after the 109-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, fueled by Griffin’s 44-point tour de force. “The revenge games. Seems like we get up for those.”
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the November buzzer-beating win at Toronto in Casey’s return five months after the Raptors fired him in time for Casey to collect his Coach of the Year award in the employ of the Pistons.
But this one also came down to the final seconds and was every bit as satisfying, evidenced by the joyous celebration on the Staples Center floor that ended with Andre Drummond dousing Griffin in water.
“I looked forward to seeing people I hadn’t seen in forever, people that I had grown to be very close with over my time here,” Griffin said, which came on 13 of 23 shooting, 5 of 12 from the 3-point arc and 13 of 14 free throws. “But most importantly for us, we need wins right now. So coming in and focusing and getting that done was the most important thing for us.”
The Pistons, who snapped a four-game losing streak, needed more than Griffin’s 44 points. They needed his eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and blocked shot, too. They needed his chase-down hustle to prevent a Danilo Gallinari layup with the Clippers – down 16 early in the third quarter – within five points midway through the fourth quarter, avoiding his fifth foul in the process.
They needed Andre Drummond’s 20 points and 21 rebounds, the two triples Reggie Bullock hit in the last five minutes – the first coming 20 seconds after Lou Williams’ three tied the game at 97 with 4:45 left – and Bruce Brown’s steal and subsequent free throws with 20 seconds remaining to prevent the Clippers from attempting a tying triple.
“Huge. He’s done that so much for us,” Griffin said, starting off talking about Bullock’s clutch shots before veering to the other major contributors. “More than anything tonight, we just played hard, man. Our guys played hard. (Reggie Jackson), Dre – 21 rebounds – Bullock. Everybody that came in.”
Bullock finished with 17 points, hitting 5 of 10 from the 3-point arc. His contribution was just as important at the other end, though, as he was the primary defender on Tobias Harris – the ex-Piston who went to the Clippers in the Griffin deal – and held Harris to 11 points and only nine shots.
“We were same high school class,” said Bullock, who spent the first 1½ seasons of his career with the Clippers after being their No. 1 pick in 2013. “I’ve been knowing his game since high school. I know tendencies, so I just try to compete and show what I can do on the defensive end.”
Avery Bradley, the other key piece in the Griffin trade, was even less noisy than Harris, finishing with three points on three shots in 22 minutes.
But the Clippers got 23 points from Danilo Gallinari – the primary defender on Griffin – and 56 points from their bench, including 22 from Williams and 21 from Montrezl Harrell. Williams’ opportunity to ruin Griffin’s homecoming, though, was aborted by Brown, who stole the ball from Williams with 21 seconds left and the Pistons ahead by three points.
“We were looking to run ’em off the line,” Brown said. “I saw him jump in the air and try to pass it, so I just tried the jump the passing lane – and I got it.”
Brown’s steal and free throws preserved a win that otherwise might have dealt the Pistons a devastating loss and be symbolic of a stretch in which Griffin has maintained an All-NBA level of play despite the struggles around him. Even Clippers fans probably went home happy, their feelings for Griffin made clear with loud applause as he was introduced and an even more rousing ovation when a tribute video was played during the game’s first timeout.
You only get one first game back and the Pistons were hell bent on not letting Griffin’s be sullied by a crushing defeat.
“Next time we come here, it won’t be the same,” Griffin said. “It’s nice to get that game over with. I compare it to the first game of the year. Such a big hype leading up to it and once it’s done, you’ve got play 81 more. Now we’ve got to play 41 more. It’s over. We’ve got a lot of basketball left to play.”
And, hopefully, a lot more revenge games. Get to work, Ed Stefanski.