Pistons let 2 leads slip away, but hold on for big road win at Indiana

Luke Kennard scored 9 points in his first NBA start as the Pistons won a back to back on the road at Indiana
Scott Cunningham (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 110-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center

1-DUD IN DALLAS – If the Pistons had a shot to win this one, it came out of the chute after halftime. Dallas blistered them for 43 points in the second quarter, hitting 15 of 20 shots and 5 of 7 from the 3-point arc, to lead by 12. The Mavs went without a point on their first seven possessions of the third quarter, but the Pistons only whittled the lead in half. And when Dallas got back-to-back triples from Wes Matthews and Yogi Ferrell, the deficit was right back to 12. The Mavs stretched the run to 11-0 to go up by 17 and led by 23 after three quarters. After yielding 43 in the second quarter, the Pistons scored only 13 in the third. The Pistons came into the game 3-0 at Dallas under Stan Van Gundy after having lost their previous six games at American Airlines Center under five different coaches around the 2011-12 lockout season, when the Pistons didn’t play at Dallas, and it looked like their recent trend might continue when they built a 23-14 lead late in the first quarter. But an 11-0 Dallas run late in the second quarter wiped out the last lead the Pistons had, 49-48, and the rout was on.

2-TOLLIVER TIME – Stan Van Gundy juggled his starting lineup, putting Anthony Tolliver in and removing Luke Kennard, motivated by nothing beyond a desire to create a more favorable matchup with Dallas going big. So Reggie Bullock opened at shooting guard – Avery Bradley’s spot opened up while he recovers from a hip/pelvic injury– against Wes Matthews, Tobias Harris at small forward against Harrison Barnes and Tolliver at power forward against Dirk Nowitzki. Van Gundy had to be nimble with his substitutions, though, because Rick Carlisle mixes and matches as liberally as any coach. The Mavs usually get Nowitzki out of the game quickly to bring him back with a second unit that often features three point guards – Devin Harris, Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea. It was that unit that got the Mavs off and running in their decisive second quarter with Barea hurting the Pistons with nine points and four assists in 9:10 of first-half playing time. Tolliver, who makes his off-season home in nearby Frisco, wound up leading the Pistons with 18 points, hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc.

3-BEYOND THE RECORD – The adage that it’s not who you play, it’s when you play them applied to the Pistons with regard to the Mavericks. While Dallas came into the game with the worst record in the Western Conference at 8-23, the Mavs have been a formidable home team for the past month, going 6-3 with dominant wins over Milwaukee (32 points), Oklahoma City (16), the Clippers (26), Denver (17) and San Antonio (six) before routing the Pistons and they’ve played stifling defense. Their defense got better as this one unfolded, the Pistons being held to 10 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter when it looked like they might have a chance to get back in the game. Tobias Harris liked his matchup against German rookie Maxi Kleber to start the game and tried to attack him, but didn’t always wind up with favorable shots and finished just 4 of 16 from the field – and 0 of 4 from the 3-point arc – for 10 points. Reggie Jackson was 3 of 9 for six points.

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