Pistons let 2 leads slip away, but hold on for big road win at Indiana
Scott Cunningham (NBAE/Getty)
You didn’t think Stan Van Gundy’s career win No. 500 was going to come easy, did you?
It might have looked that way a few minutes into the fourth quarter when his bench stretched the Pistons lead over Indiana to 16. But this was the same Pacers team that a month ago overcame a 22-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Pistons – and the same Pacers team that wiped out a 14-point first-half deficit in less than eight minutes to lead by two at halftime.
So, sure enough. There the Pacers were, down two with the ball and 40 seconds left, all the momentum that could fit into Bankers Life Fieldhouse wearing Pacers blue, and things looked bleak.
But Myles Turner missed a triple after the Pacers ran the shot clock down, so when the Pistons gathered the rebound Indiana was forced to foul. Two Reggie Jackson free throws, an Andre Drummond blocked shot and two more Stanley Johnson free throws and the Pistons had their 104-98 win.
“I would’ve taken a 15-point win,” said Van Gundy, who said of 500, “it’s just a number and it’s pretty trivial.”
“But I think to be good – and you see this even with a team as good as Golden State – you’ve got to be able to win different ways. Some nights it’s a little tougher. When you have a tough fourth quarter, you’ve got to be able to grind it out. The fact you can win with your offense going and then you can win with your defense grinding it out I think is a good thing.”
So a team that left Auburn Hills on Wednesday dazed by a seven-game losing streak to douse the flames of their 14-6 start suddenly had won back to back road games in a 24-hour span over Atlanta and Indiana.
“We showed a lot of fight,” Andre Drummond said after another overpowering outing with 23 points, 13 boards and three blocks – none bigger than his snuff of Victor Oladipo with 15 seconds left. “When adversity struck, we did what we do best – we continued to fight. A great win. This is a great team here in Indiana. They always give us a good fight, but we got the best of them tonight so I’m real excited about the win.”
The Pistons needed everything Drummond could muster because they played without Avery Bradley – out with a hip injury – and got a combined 14 points on 5 of 25 shooting from their two best offensive players, Jackson and Tobias Harris.
But Reggie Bullock was good, forcing Oladipo to take 22 shots to get his 26 points while scoring 15 points with three steals and making 3 of 4 triples. Luke Kennard, making his first NBA start for Bradley, gave the Pistons efficient scoring and underrated defense on the dangerous Bogdan Bogdanovic. Langston Galloway continued his hot shooting with 11 points off the bench. And Stanley Johnson, replaced by Bullock in the starting lineup three games ago, continued to show signs he’ll thrive off the bench as he did in his promising rookie season.
“Andre was big tonight. That last three-point play was just a monster,” Van Gundy said, referencing Drummond’s put-back and free throw with less than four minutes left after an Oladipo triple pulled the Pacers within four and were the Pistons last points until the four late free throws to clinch it.
“Reggie Bullock was fantastic at both ends of the floor. Langston Galloway gives us another lift. Stanley played well. Luke Kennard also played really well. We had a lot of guys who played really well. A couple of our key guys did not on the second night of a back to back and we were still able to win on the road and hold a really good team under 100 points. Really proud of our guys.”
Indiana turned up their pressure after falling behind by 16 points and the Pistons struggled to get into their offense. Jackson picked up his fifth foul with about five minutes left and Van Gundy went back to Smith, but the Pistons weren’t getting enough stops to exploit Smith’s strength in transition and Harris couldn’t get anything to fall when the ball went to him in late-clock situations.
But they found a way to win the back to back against a team that was off the previous night, holding the NBA’s seventh-ranked offense under 100 points despite the absence of their best defender. It’s the kind of win that boosts morale and has some staying power.
“It can mean a lot,” said Kennard, who hit 4 of 6 shots in scoring nine points to go with five boards, four assists and no turnovers, ticking off some of the big and more subtle contributions from players up and down the roster. “Andre’s offensive rebound, just hustling for a ball like that. Getting some big stops on defense, couple loose balls here and there, that really won us the game tonight.”
It would have been a devastating loss, but it turned out to be a most satisfying win and leaves the Pistons at 16-13, tied with Washington and Indiana for the 5-6-7 spots in the East. And the Pistons squared their road record at 8-8.
“I thought we fought through a lot at the end,” Van Gundy said. “They went on a big run and our guys hung in there. They fought through their pressure – a lot of hold, grab, push, shove. Frustrating not getting calls, (but) just kept playing and got some big stops down the stretch.”