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

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.”