Pistons finish off weekend sweep with comeback OT win at Boston
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BOSTON – Stan Van Gundy will go into summer armed with a lottery pick – barring a Herculean charge over the season's final 12 games – and a war chest of money. It's pretty easy to guess where he's going to allocate his resources.
Here's where it won't be: His backcourt and the middle of the Pistons lineup are populated by players who figure to be around for as far into the future as you dare look in the NBA. Sunday night's performance was the latest compelling example of why Van Gundy, despite a turbulent first season of injuries and roster shuffling, is bullish on the future in Detroit.
Andre Drummond scored 18 points despite missing 9 of 11 free throws, grabbed a whopping 22 rebounds and blocked four shots. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope logged 44 minutes and for the second straight night didn't sit a second after halftime – this time, including an overtime period – while scoring a game-high 27 points and grabbing eight rebounds. And Reggie Jackson came up one rebound shy of his second triple-double in his last three games, scoring 17 points and dishing out 11 assists.
So the Pistons wrapped a 3-1 week in which they played four games without Greg Monroe, knocked off two playoff teams (Memphis and Chicago) and came back twice in a 24-hour span from double-digit second-half deficits.
"I keep saying it: This team's got a lot of character," Van Gundy said after the 105-97 win at Boston, where the Celtics had won 9 of 10 to climb into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. "Guys have continued to fight the entire year – good times, adversity, injuries, whatever it is. They continue to play really, really hard."
Nobody did it harder or better than their three franchise cornerstones, Jackson the graybeard of the bunch at the ripe old age of 24. Jackson's had some intoxicating highs in his 15 games since arriving at the trade deadline, but struggled in other games. Not so much over the last four, though, which included a 20-20 performance and Saturday's 17-point, seven-assist third quarter against Chicago when he made 7 of 8 shots and didn't commit a turnover.
"As I told coach Van Gundy, we're getting a special talent," said Caron Butler, a teammate of Jackson's in Oklahoma City last season who was consulted by Van Gundy before the trade was executed. "It takes some time to develop a rhythm and find your spots and where your offense is coming from. He seems to be finding his niche on this ballclub."
The other 2002 draft class veteran, Tayshaun Prince, has mentored Jackson through his rushed transition, too, lending perspective by telling him about what he experienced in Memphis with another point guard that experienced growing pains, Mike Conley.
"I was just trying to give him some similarities, how Mike Conley took some time being able to understand playing with two bigs, when you can use pick and roll, get to the rim and how quick you can make decisions," Prince said. "It's going to take time. When Greg comes back, it's still going to take time for him to figure that out. But while Greg's out, he's more comfortable with the four out, one in."
The Pistons won despite the fourth guy out – Anthony Tolliver, who has replaced Monroe as a starter – enduring shooting slump. Tolliver didn't score against Boston, missing all seven shots. But their three young guys were so good and they got just enough help from Jodie Meeks (14 points), Butler (12) and Prince (nine points and another handful of big plays down the stretch) to grind out another win.
They came back from 10 down in the second half, getting 30 second-half points from their backcourt, 17 from Caldwell-Pope, Jackson content to orchestrate and find his shooters after assertive forays into the paint.
Jackson's comfort level is palpably growing. He might have done his best job yet of probing without forcing anything. He went into overtime with just one turnover, finishing with four, two coming on offensive foul calls. At least a handful of times, he made pinpoint passes that created open shots that the Pistons couldn't convert. On another night, Jackson might have registered another 20-assist game.
"Easily," Van Gundy said. "He's playing very well. The last four games, he's been outstanding – making plays and creating shots for us. You've got to be very, very happy with that."
"He's been good the last couple of games," Caldwell-Pope said. "He's really just been taking his time, making the right play, coming off of screens and really being aggressive."
Caldwell-Pope, too, is showing late-season growth – perhaps no better evidence being Van Gundy's utter faith in him by granting him as many minutes as he can handle.
"Tomorrow's day off," Van Gundy deadpanned, "will serve him well."
"Yeah," Caldwell-Pope agreed. "I'm going to get a lot of rest."
"The roadrunner," Butler declared him. "Rising star, man. He's a humble kid and we're really happy for him, the way he's performing of late. He's playing with a lot of energy and as he goes, we go – him, Reggie, Andre. We're playing off of those guys."
And will be for years to come.