Pistons jump on overmatched Suns early, coast to lopsided win

Reggie Jackson helped get the Pistons off and running as they scored a wire-to-wire win over Phoenix at Little Caesars Arena
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy volunteered that he observed maturity in his team for the way it manhandled a lottery-bound opponent 48 hours after sauntering out of Boston having handed the NBA’s top team a 10-point loss.

Told of his coach’s reaction, Reggie Jackson broke into a broad grin.

“Did he talk about the Clippers, Golden State and then the Lakers game?”

“Nope.”

“I’m surprised.”

“Has he talked about it to you?”

“A little bit.”

Another big smile.

Even when the Pistons won 44 games two seasons ago to break a six-season playoff drought, there were too many letdowns against weaker teams to counter the stirring wins over Golden State or Cleveland. There haven’t been many such hiccups this season, the loss to the Lakers to end October after back-to-back wins over the Clippres and Lakers aside.

So it was a good sign when the Pistons locked up Phoenix on the game’s first possession to force a 24-second violation, then did it again four possessions later.

“Coming off a big win like Monday night, to come out and play like that I think was a good sign of maturity. I was happy with that,” Van Gundy said after the 131-107 crushing of Phoenix in a game where the Pistons led by 17 after one quarter, by 28 at halftime and by 36 in the third quarter. “Defensively, in the first half, I thought our guys were on it. I thought our offensive energy was strong.”

Suns rookie Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick in last June’s draft after one season at Kansas, is a Detroit native who thought he recognized something in these Pistons.

“They kind of reminded me of the Pistons in 2004-05,” he said. “They came out and played really, really tough on defense. That’s what the Pistons have always been known for – just being a really tough team and being really good defensively.”

That started with Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson, who slotted nicely against the Suns only two consistent scorers, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. Booker got some garbage-time points late in the third quarter to finish with 22, but Warren was held to seven, 12 under his average. At halftime, when the die had been cast, they had a combined 10 points.

“I feel bad when guys have scorers with those two out there,” Jackson said. “They’re hounding you; they’re attacking you. It’s almost like they’re on offense when they’re on defense. I’m happy to have Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson as my teammates rather than be on the other team and have to be opposing them.”

The offense, meanwhile, has found its stride, completely comfortable with the new motion-heavy offense Van Gundy implemented in training camp. Andre Drummond tied his career best with seven assists despite playing only 28 minutes. The Pistons dished out 31 assists to give them a streak of 14 straight games with 20 or more. It’s been 12 seasons since they had a similar such streak and that team went to the conference finals.

“Everybody is playing to their strengths,” said Tobias Harris, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. “Reggie’s doing a great job coming off the pick and roll with Andre. Avery’s doing a great job on his side of the court coming off pin-downs and getting to the lane and pull-up jumpers. Myself, I’ve been able to space the floor at times and be able to just read defenses. We’re really finding our chemistry and that’s something we lacked last year. This year we’ve been able to really do a good job of locking in to what works.”

Jackson had 23 points and Bradley 20. Ish Smith scored 14 and Luke Kennard 12 off the bench and both added six assists. Everybody went home happy because Van Gundy was able to clear the bench for the final five minutes, which meant Boban Marjanovic got to play, too.

It was a one-game reprieve for the Pistons amid a stretch of schedule loaded with playoff opponents. They head back out on the road now for a four-game trip that starts Friday and includes four likely playoff teams: Washington, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Milwaukee.

“We have to take these past few big wins on the road with us and continue to play our style of basketball,” Kennard said. “If we do that, we can be a successful team. We’re looking forward to the trip and hopefully we can bring back some wins.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 131-107 win over the Phoenix Suns at Little Caesars Arena

1-A TOTAL ECLIPSE – If you were worried about how the Pistons would respond to playing the lottery-bound Phoenix Suns two nights after an intense win over the team with the NBA’s best record, Boston, your concern dissipated about five minutes after tipoff. The Pistons forced a 24-second violation on Phoenix’s first possession and two of its first five, an indication they weren’t in coast mode. They led by 17 after one quarter and by 28 at halftime, scoring 69 points to post a season high for a half and were up 36 late in the third quarter before Stan Van Gundy’s starters cooled their heels and the bench emptied in a ragtag fourth quarter. Reggie Jackson scored 23 points, Tobias Harris added 20 and Andre Drummond led a 31-assist night by tying a career high with seven in just 28 minutes. The Pistons are now 7-1 vs. Western Conference teams, including a 4-1 record in road games with the wins coming at the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Minnesota and Oklahoma City – all probable playoff teams with the possible exception of the Clippers, who’ve lost Blake Griffin but were unbeaten at the time they played the Pistons.

2-HALFWAY HOME – The Suns game comes right in the middle of a brutal 13-game stretch for the Pistons that almost surely will turn out to be the most difficult portion of their season. In that time they’ll play nine road games and face 12 teams – they make two trips to Milwaukee, including one to end the upcoming four-game swing – and there’s a healthy chance that only Phoenix of the 13 opponents will find itself in the lottery. After opening with tough losses to Milwaukee and Indiana, the Pistons have now won four of five with the only loss to the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers – the third game in four nights for the Pistons and a back to back against a rested team. They’ve won three straight road games against near-certain playoff teams in Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Boston. Other than Phoenix, the only home games among the 13 dates were against a who’s who of NBA elites: Cleveland, Golden State and Boston. If the Pistons get through that stretch having won six or seven games – and they’re 4-3 now – they’ll be set up to make up some ground in the coming weeks as the schedule lightens.

3-SHUTDOWN DEFENDERS – Sometimes Stan Van Gundy has to manipulate matchups to put his two best perimeter defenders, Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson, on the opposition’s best scorers. No need to do so against Phoenix. Devin Booker (23.0 points a game) and T.J. Warren (18.9) give the Suns a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch but they happen to play the same positions as Van Gundy’s ace wing defenders. Bradley, coming off a game in which he held Kyrie Irving to 18 points (five under his average) on 6 of 16 shooting, smothered Booker. The game was essentially decided by halftime and Booker was held to three shot attempts. He made them all, two of them high-degree-of-difficulty jumpers with Bradley glued to him. Warren was 1 of 4 at halftime. Booker scored two baskets on consecutive possessions late in the third quarter, neither while being guarded by Bradley, then ran up hollow points with Bradley out of the game to finish with 22. Johnson held Warren to seven points.

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