Pistons jump on overmatched Suns early, coast to lopsided win
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
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?”
“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.”