Perhaps they came to see Kobe Bryant. Maybe they left talking about the Pistons.
“I just hope they look at us and see that we’re developing into a good team and that we’re playing better,” Stan Van Gundy said after the first sellout of the season saw the Pistons rock the Lakers in Bryant’s Palace finale, 111-91. “And that there’s more reasons to come here than just to see Kobe.”
The Pistons were waiting for to put November behind them after playing 11 of 17 games on the road. But it only matters that you get home games if, you know, you actually win them.
Check, check, check and check.
The Pistons completed a four-game home stand by scoring the first 15 points Sunday and never trailing for the second straight game. And that, boys and girls, is called “taking care of business.”
It might have been easy to get swept up in the Kobe fever a week after he announced the 20th season would be his last. John Mason gave him a beautiful tribute during pregame introductions, reciting his litany of achievement while the 20,000-plus crowd rose to their feet and roared. But they didn’t get many chances to cheer him afterward, Bryant – who was ill most of the day and didn’t join the Lakers for pregame warmups until several minutes after the rest of the team took the court – missing his first nine shots and finishing with only five points.
Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson – who was all of 5 months old when Bryant made his NBA debut in November 1995 – took turns guarding Bryant aggressively on a night Van Gundy was able to get his starters some precious rest.
But he was going to do what he needed, play his starters as long as it took, to make sure the Pistons finished the week 4-0.
“It was good. Four-game home stand and get ’em all,” he said. “That was good. Really happy with that.”
The four-game winning streak at The Palace makes the Pistons 8-2 there this season with one of the losses coming by two points to a Washington team that had been off for the three previous days while the Pistons had played in Minnesota the previous night.
“It’s great to protect home,” Reggie Jackson said. “I think the teams that make it are the teams that value home wins and then just try to find a way to stay afloat on the road. You would love to be elite on the road, but I think it’s much easier to be elite at home, especially when you’ve got your fans backing you. We’re got to try to protect home court every time we come in here.”
The winning streak saw the Pistons average 114 points a game. They were going up against opponents that all began the week in the bottom third in defensive ratings, so Van Gundy isn’t ready to proclaim his team’s offense fixed just yet.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “We didn’t play great defensive teams in this stretch. We played teams that could really score – Houston, Phoenix. But if you look at the defensive ratings of those four teams, they’re not great at that end. I think we’re improving, but I think four games is probably a little too early to call it a trend.”
But Jackson, the catalyst, clearly looks more at ease and decisive of late. The rout allowed him to play only 24 minutes, same as Andre Drummond. Jackson finished with 20 points and six assists, Drummond with 18 points and 15 boards.
“I think we’re starting to click, starting to find shots,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve been in a nice little groove, finding shots and everybody’s pretty much shooting their shot. We passed up a few tonight, but as long as we continue to play together and be aggressive and shoot your shot, I think our percentages will go up and put us in a better place to be victorious at the end of each night.”
“The ball’s moving a lot better. We’re shooting better,” said Anthony Tolliver, who played a team-high 34 minutes, in large measure because Ersan Ilyasova got into early foul trouble. “We’re getting on-time, on-target type passes, which tremendously helps your shooting percentage and everything else. I feel like there’s a lot more continuity right now. Guys are sharing the ball and feeling good about it.”
They can feel good on a few different fronts. That they pulled out of the funk that hung over them after losing four straight to end last month’s six-game road trip. That they managed to survive even as their offense bumped along near the bottom of the league rankings. That they did exactly what appeared within their grasp at the start of the week, beat up on four teams with losing records and make home-court advantage hold up.
“A good stand,” Tolliver said. “A good four-game winning streak here at home. The early losses that we felt like we should’ve won, I felt like we’re learning from those and hopefully guys are taking some of these lesser-record teams more seriously. You have to in order to get wins against these guys. Hopefully, we learn from those early losses and we can mature from that.”