Pistons keep rolling and Bulls take notice: ‘They’re a good example of who we can be’
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DETROIT – The Pistons aren’t ready to call themselves a playoff team, but the Bulls have no such qualms.
“I mean, that’s a playoff team,” Bulls newcomer Otto Porter, who logged 31 playoff games over four postseasons with Washington, said after the Pistons 131-108 Sunday matinee win, their second over Chicago in less than 48 hours. “Playoff teams, they’re locked in. They’re together as one – the starters and the bench. Everybody comes in and plays their role and does their job for the sake of the team and for the sake of winning. We’ve got to learn from that, how they control the game.”
It was a similar script to Friday’s, though this time the Pistons didn’t dig themselves quite the 21-point hole they did at United Center. Lethargic defense allowed Chicago to score 56 first-half points and lead most of the way, but a 13-3 closing run gave the Pistons a five-point halftime lead.
Then a 42-point third quarter gave them something precious: a fourth quarter of rest for Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson ahead of Monday’s game at Brooklyn, where to the winner goes a temporary hold on the No. 6 playoff spot. On Wednesday, the Pistons play at Miami, another of the five teams vying for the final three playoff spots in the East.
“This is a playoff game for us. Both of these games,” Langston Galloway said after scoring 21 off of the bench. “We’ve got to take care of Brooklyn tomorrow. We’re excited because this is a test to see where we’re at.”
Galloway’s experience encapsulates the Pistons season – bumping along with highs and lows for most of the first 50 games and suddenly catching fire. He stuck in the rotation despite cold 3-point shooting because Dwane Casey admires his toughness and motor, but he was on the verge of getting bypassed until a few weeks ago. He hit 6 of 6 from the 3-point arc on Sunday to stretch his streak of made threes without a miss to 12 over the past three games.
“He’s been great,” Blake Griffin said. “It’s been a team effort. I think I said this last game, but you almost never know who it’s going to be from our team. We’ve had a lot of guys play some big, big minutes. We’ve had a lot of guys have stretches where they’ve really hurt teams. That’s been another good thing about this stretch, too.”
The Pistons have won 12 of 14 to go from seven games under .500 to three over at 34-31. They’re a half-game ahead of Brooklyn, which has played three more games. Sunday’s win was their fifth straight and improved their record since the All-Star break to 8-1.
So, yeah, the Brooklyn and Miami games are important, but a big reason they’ve taken on such relevance is the work the Pistons have done in beating the teams they should. Since the break, they’re 4-0 against lottery-bound Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago while also beating certain playoff teams Toronto and Indiana in addition to a team from each conference still knocking on the door, Miami and Minnesota.
“They’re important games,” Casey said. “Two teams that are neck and neck with us. But from my standpoint, today’s and Friday night’s game were just as important. If you don’t take care of business in these games, those games will be meaningless.”
That was more or less Griffin’s message at halftime Sunday, too, after the Pistons were too content to trade baskets in the first half. Griffin scored 16 of his 27 points in Friday’s fourth quarter to put the hammer down, but he got his work done earlier on Sunday, scoring 17 of his 28 in the decisive third quarter.
“We talked about it as a team. More so than just getting the rest (in the fourth quarter), just taking care of business and playing the right way,” Griffin said. “We talked about that – coming out and getting a good start to the half after we had finished the (first) half on a pretty good note. We just wanted to carry over that momentum.”
“Came out strong in the third quarter,” said Andre Drummond, who looked a half-step slow in the first half after logging 43 minutes to spearhead Friday’s comeback but had nine of his 16 points and seven of his 15 rebounds in the third quarter. “Made great decisions offensively. Defensively we got stops, ran the ball up the court. We had the same guys off the bench still hot and the rest is history.”
Luke Kennard actually cooled off from his torrid 3-point levels since Feb. 1, hitting just 1 of 5, but continued his ascendancy regardless with four of the team’s season-high 34 assists plus a season-high nine rebounds to go with his nine points.
“(Galloway) and Luke are really important offensive pieces coming off the bench,” Casey said. “Luke Kennard is really growing up right in front of us. He didn’t have a great shooting day today, but they were great looks. You know you have respect when teams double team you. They’re blitzing his pick and rolls. That’s a sign of respect around our league.”
The Pistons are starting to get some, too. That’s what happens when you string together the types of wins they have – beating good teams and bad and winning by big margins.
“We’ve got to learn from the Pistons,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “The bench guys come off with force. Galloway and (Ish) Smith, they take pride in their minutes and they play them the best they can and they sit down and root for the other guys. Griffin and Drummond are powerful guys and they pounded on us a little bit. So they’ve got a couple of stars, they’ve got some good role players and they’ve got guys that can play their minutes. They have maturity. They’re a good example of maybe who we can be.”