Pistons hold off Hawks to keep momentum rolling: 9-3 and counting

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in the final minute to allow the Pistons to hold on after squandering a 19-point lead against Atlanta.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The Pistons have moved away from leaning so heavily on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, but it’s nice to know they can still go back to that formula in a pinch.

And the resolve the two players Stan Van Gundy identified as franchise cornerstones coming out of his first season as Pistons coach showed down the stretch of Friday’s 111-104 win over Atlanta bodes well for a season off to a rollicking start.

Jackson wasn’t having a particularly auspicious game Friday night when he re-entered the lineup for Ish Smith with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. He was sitting on nine points and six assists. He finished with 22 points, scoring eight in the final minute – including two huge triples on consecutive possessions 30 seconds apart.

Drummond, coming off a 0 of 7 foul-shooting night in his last game, went to the line with 1:28 left in a tie game and swished both. He finished with 16 points and his second consecutive 20-rebound performance while setting a career high with seven assists.

“Anything’s possible for this team when those guys are playing well,” Avery Bradley said after the Pistons improved to 9-3, their best start since the 2005-06 Goin’ to Work Pistons opened 10-2. “Reggie Jackson’s a very good player. Andre’s a very good player. When those guys are in pick and roll – I told Reggie tonight – they open the game up for everybody.”

The Pistons played six brilliant minutes of basketball – outscoring Atlanta 25-10 to close the first half – and that felt like it should have been enough against the 2-9 Hawks. But Atlanta cut the lead to seven after three quarters and tied it at 94 with just under four minutes to play – and again at 96, 98 and 100, the latter score coming after Drummond’s big free throws.

“I was going to have a game where I missed a bunch of free throws,” Drummond said. “The next day I went into the gym, figured out what I was doing wrong. I watched film on how I was shooting and I was doing certain things wrong that I wasn’t doing before and I went back to my routine and I knocked ’em down.”

Biggest ones of the season?

“Probably my whole career,” he said.

“That was huge, right?” Van Gundy said. “It was huge to make those two big ones down the stretch. Fantastic. And then a 20-rebound night. Yeah, pretty good night for him.”

Almost a really bad night for the Pistons, though, and Van Gundy was unusually dour after the win, disappointed that the thing he mused about before the game – handling success and dealing with adulation during their encouraging start – came to fruition.

“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” he said. “Our focus was not good. It just wasn’t. But we got the win doing that and now what you hope is that your team will learn from that and not just blow it off. Enjoy the win tonight and come in ready to learn and get better tomorrow, which is what I would hope we could’ve done after the last game but that’s what we need to do going forward.”

It might have been an even more subdued Van Gundy if Jackson didn’t capture his 2015-16 magic – when he was the NBA’s leading fourth-quarter scorer – in the final minute. The first three he stroked, with the shot clock winding down, came with him having missed 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc prior to that possession.

“He had two big threes to save us,” Van Gundy said. “Two big threes. Huge. And then made free throws, too. So – saved us.”

The Pistons got a rare fourth-quarter stop on Atlanta’s ensuing possession – the Hawks had scored on six straight trips to rush back into the game and scored 35 points on 65 percent shooting in the quarter – and then put it away with a four-point trip. Bradley split a pair of free throws, but he wound up with the rebound on his miss to give the Pistons a fresh 24 seconds with a four-point lead. Jackson ended that possession with another triple.

Jackson’s first critical three came with Hawks rookie big man John Collins guarding him after getting caught in a switch. When he wisely backed off Jackson to prevent a drive-by, Jackson stepped into the shot with palpable confidence.

“He was backpedaling. He was back a little bit. Just hit a three,” Jackson said. “I figured, why not take another one?”

Indeed, why not?

“Reggie Jackson just made some big plays for our team tonight,” Bradley said. “Player of the game to me. He didn’t make some threes at the beginning of the game and for him to have the guts to be able to take those shots at the end of the game says a lot about him and says a lot about us as a team. It can be any guy’s night.”

“The fourth quarter comes around, you kind of just let Reggie do his thing,” Drummond said. “He brings his game to a whole new level when that fourth quarter comes around. When he has the ball, we have the utmost faith in him and he’s going to make the right decision more times than not.”

And then he said something that underscores the “pick your poison” dilemma teams face when Drummond and Jackson are at the top of their games.

“And I had good position anyway,” Drummond grinned, “so if he did miss it, I probably would’ve got the rebound.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 112-103 win over the Miami Heat at Little Caesars Arena

1-A SUNDAY CLASSIC – You might have missed it, given that the Pistons played smack dab in the middle of an NFL Sunday, but that was a great NBA basketball game they won on Sunday. After falling behind by 11 points, the largest deficit of the game, the Pistons closed the third quarter on a 21-8 burst to lead by two points. They took a seven-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, then answered Miami’s 6-0 run with a 7-0 spurt. In going from 11 down in the third quarter to 11 ahead in the fourth, the Pistons outscored the Heat 41-19. The win gave the Pistons a clean sweep of their five-game home stand. Miami wrapped up a six-game road trip at 3-3. Miami, eighth in scoring defense and coming off a win at Utah on Friday in which the Jazz were held to 74 points and just seven in the third quarter, scored 58 points in the first half and did it with a barrage of 3-pointers, hitting 11 of 23 in the half alone. But turnabout proved fair play, the Pistons getting back in the game on the strength of 3-point shooting. It was their third straight game with 12-plus triples as they finished 14 of 28 with Tobias Harris (5 of 8) and Anthony Tolliver (3 of 3) doing significant damage. Rookie Luke Kennard scored a career-high 14 points and scored nine points, including a big triple, during the fourth-quarter run as the Pistons took their 11-point lead. Harris led the Pistons with 25 points while Avery Bradley added 24 and Andre Drummond grabbed 17 rebounds.

2-BACK-TO-BACK ISSUES – Stanley Johnson missed time late in training camp and the preseason finale with a lower-back injury, then missed the past two games with a left hip flexor injury. Stan Van Gundy hoped to get both Johnson and Jon Leuer – who missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle – back no later than Wednesday, when the Pistons start a three-game road trip at Milwaukee. But now Johnson’s back is again a problem. “He’s got no structural (problem),” Van Gundy said before Sunday’s game. “They’ve done the MRI; there’s nothing in there. He doesn’t have a disc problem. There’s no fractures in there, none of that. He’s got a Grade 1 sprain, but not feeling real good. Not loosening up or anything. It would be good to get those guys back, especially going back out on the road to play nine of 11 on the road. You don’t want to be without two of your top seven guys.” Reggie Bullock, who started again in Johnson’s spot, didn’t get a lot done, going scoreless on three shots in 21 minutes.

3-HEAT RISING – Miami’s 3-point extravaganza was especially stark in light of the Heat’s recent history. Just two years ago, Miami averaged a mere 18 3-point attempts a game. Last year, they took 50 percent more – 27 a game. This year, they entered Sunday’s game averaging nearly 31 shots a game, ninth most in the NBA. The Pistons, meanwhile, have been consistently among the league leaders at limiting 3-point attempts. Through their first 12 games, only four NBA teams had allowed fewer triples per game than Detroit’s 25.9. Miami had 23 by halftime. Ten of Miami’s first 13 shots were 3-pointers. The Pistons finished 26th in the league last season in 3-point attempts, taking only 23.4 per game. Through 12 games, they’d increased that to 28.2, 17th in the league. Miami finished 13 of 37 from the arc.

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