Pistons open 2nd half with big road win at Houston to foil Hack-a-Dre excess

Marcus Morris scored 22 points to help lead the Pistons past Houston, where he broke into the NBA in 2011.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

HOUSTON – Well, that was … something.

Maybe the fan experience was marred by Houston’s decision to take intentional fouling to its logical extreme – five fouls in the first nine seconds of the third quarter? – but the philosophical debate will be for the off-season. The biggest takeaway for the Pistons was getting the second half of the season – and an important four-game road trip – off on the right foot.

Mission accomplished, a 123-114 win at Houston that saw all five starters score between 17 and 22 points and all four bench players between five and eight.

The Pistons committed only 10 turnovers – astoundingly, six of them were jammed into the first four minutes of the second quarter – shot 40 percent from the 3-point line, made Houston pay when the Rockets went small and held their composure despite the extreme disruption caused by the 13 times the Rockets intentionally fouled Andre Drummond to send him to the foul line in the second half alone.

Drummond was 5 of 16 from the line in the first 2:32 of the third quarter before the Pistons used an intentional foul six seconds later to get Aron Baynes in the game for him. In that time, Houston cut a nine-point halftime deficit to one and briefly took a three-point lead midway through the quarter. Drummond rebounded to hit 6 of 12 in the fourth quarter and finished 13 of 36, three off the NBA record for attempts in a game and establishing a new record of 23 misses in a game, one ahead of Wilt Chamberlain.

“These aren’t fun games for anybody,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I think if you go in the Rockets locker room, I think the players will tell you they didn’t like it. They were talking to us on our bench. I don’t think any player wants to play that way. They want to play basketball. But it’s not their decision.”

“Just unnecessary,” said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whose hot January continued as he and Marcus Morris scored 22 each. “To do that almost the whole third quarter, we almost got out of rhythm. It took us a while to get it back going. They did take the lead once we did sub Drummond, but we kind of buckled down and got it back.”

The Pistons closed the third quarter on a 20-11 run, then opened the fourth quarter 14-9 to take an 11-point lead before the Rockets again went to banging Drummond. They got a handful of big plays from Stanley Johnson and Brandon Jennings and pushed the lead to 17 with five minutes left before Houston started burying 3-pointers, though the Rockets never got closer than the nine-point final margin.

And just as the Pistons opened the season with an eyebrow-raising road win at Atlanta, the second half began with another road win against the other team to lose in last spring’s NBA conference finals.

“Extremely important to get a win,” said Reggie Jackson, who recorded 17 points and nine assists against just one turnover. “Everybody sees how the East is going. It’s very competitive. Everybody’s right there in the middle of the back from about two to 12. The team that racks up some wins back to back and gets a streak going can separate themselves. That’s something we’re looking forward to trying to accomplish.”

“That’s what we came here for, our mindset, to start the second half with a win,” Caldwell-Pope said. “And continue to win. We’re going to make that a great emphasis and keep pulling for each other.”

Morris and Caldwell-Pope combined to make 7 of 15 triples, Morris going 4 of 6 after an 0 of 6 Monday against Chicago when he hit 8 of 10 inside the arc. When the Pistons are getting that type of efficiency from their wing players – and a combined 25 points and 11 boards from power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Tolliver – around the Drummond-Jackson pick and roll, they’re a dangerous offensive force.

“We’re based off of pick-and-roll offense,” Jackson said. “We’ve got guys who can run and we’ve got big guys who can set screens and catch and finish and make plays. You’ve got to pick your poison. When our wings are shooting well, you’ve really got to choose what you want to give up.”

The win made the Pistons 23-19, tying them with Indiana, which holds down the fifth playoff spot in the East – two games out of the No. 3 spot but also just 2½ games ahead of No. 11.

It was excruciating during the third- and fourth-quarter interludes when Drummond shot 28 free throws, but a win is a win is a win.

“We got through it,” Van Gundy said. “(Commissioner) Adam Silver and the league, they’ve decided that’s the way they want to play the game and that’s what they want people to watch. So as long as the fans are OK with watching it, then we’ll continue to play that way. At some point, the fans may get to the point and say, ‘We’re not going to pay to watch this. We’re going to flip the channel.’ They haven’t yet. That’s what Adam keeps saying. And when they do, then the league will have to make an adjustment. That’s not up to us. Our job is just to coach the game within the rules.”

Drummond, in all likelihood, will have to start hitting 50 percent or better of his free throws to dissuade future coaches from using the same tactic. But it’s instructive that the Pistons are 4-1 against Houston and Boston, the teams that have used it to its most extreme so far. As Van Gundy says, it’s been a resilient team, and overcoming the disruption Houston injected into the game required plenty of resilience.

“We got good contributions from really everyone in the starting lineup, really on the bench. Stanley – nine rebounds – was our best guy in terms of the plus/minus tonight. I thought we got good play from a lot of people. It’s a good road win and we move on.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 123-114 win over the Houston Rockets...

SLAM DUNK– The Pistons began the second half of the season just as they began the first half – with a road win over a team that made it to the conference finals last spring. The win at Houston was notable for Houston’s aggressive employment of the tactic of intentionally fouling Andre Drummond. The Rockets opened the third quarter with little-used K.J. McDaniels fouling him five times in the first nine seconds. Drummond shot 16 free throws in less than three minutes and Houston erased a nine-point halftime deficit shortly after Drummond went to the bench, hitting 4 of 16 foul shots. He made 6 of 8 to start the fourth quarter, though, as the Pistons rebuilt a 16-point lead midway through the quarter. Drummond finished 13 of 36, smashing the franchise record for attempts in a game, which was held by George Yardley and Walter Dukes with 24, and was three off the NBA record held by Dwight Howard. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris led the Pistons with 22 points, Morris hitting three fourth-quarter triples to repel Houston’s comeback attempt. Pistons other than Drummond had a terrific night at the foul line, making 22 of 23. Dwight Howard went out in the first minute after he and Ty Lawson went down in a pile in a play that resulted in Andre Drummond picking up a foul.

FREE THROW – Houston built its roster and installed its offense to fully exploit the inherent advantage of taking 3-point shots as opposed to jump shots inside the arc. The Rockets are No. 2 in the league, barely behind Golden State, in number of 3-point shots attempted per game, 30. They’re No. 4 in the league in percentage of points scored from the 3-point line at 30 percent. The Pistons have generally ranked in the NBA’s top 10 in statistics like number of shots from the 3-point arc as a percentage of overall shots during Stan Van Gundy’s reign and they’re ninth this season in 3-point tries per game at 26.2. But neither team is hitting those shots as often as they’d expected this season, the Pistons 23rd in 3-point percentage (.335) and Houston 17th (.348). But the Pistons held their own with the Rockets, finishing 12 of 30 to Houston’s 12 of 24. Houston hit 6 of 9 in the fourth quarter, launching them quickly after the Pistons went ahead by 16 points. The Pistons got out of the blocks quickly, hitting 5 of 10 in the first quarter to take a 10-point lead.

3-POINTER – The Pistons are pretty close to a middle-of-the-pack offensive team this season, ranking 16th in scoring (101.4) and 20th in offensive efficiency (101.5). But they’re 27th in assists. Is that an alarming statistic or does that statistic not carry a lot of meaning. “It does and it doesn’t,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I think we can pretty well measure our ball movement watching it on film and know if it’s good.” But even when the Pistons are playing at a high level offensively, they probably aren’t going to have a high ratio of assisted baskets. “Most of Marcus’ (Morris) baskets are going to be unassisted and we go to him down there. We probably post up about as much as anybody between he and Andre (Drummond) – those aren’t going to be assisted buckets. Reggie’s (Jackson) been able to get to the rim and score a lot. I look at it, but I try to look deeper. We’ve certainly had problems with ball movement, but it goes beyond assist statistics and I think we’re getting better moving the ball.” The Pistons average 18.9 assists a game. They finished with 23 on 38 baskets with Jackson leading them with nine and Jennings adding four.

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