Pistons rally from 11 down to win a Sunday classic over Heat in 3-point shootout

Tobias Harris stayed hot from the 3-point arc as the Pistons won their fifth straight game in a shootout with Miami.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Thirteen games into the season, it tells you something about how it’s going for the Pistons that they can already debate their most satisfying win.

It’s tough to beat a win at Golden State after spotting the defending champions a 14-point second-half lead – especially when it came less than 24 hours after a 13-point comeback to beat the Clippers – but Sunday’s 112-103 win over Miami is right up there.

And considering the quality of play on both sides, maybe atop the list.

“Other than the Warrior win, this is our best win, I thought,” Stan Van Gundy said. “They played so well. That was a hell of a basketball game.”

Miami hit 11 of 23 from the 3-point line in just the first half and the Heat could have been on their way to a blowout win if the Pistons hadn’t absorbed all those haymakers with such resilience. But it looked like the dam was about to burst five minutes into the third quarter when the Heat took an 11-point lead.

What happened in the next 39 seconds made possible another remarkable comeback. Avery Bradley’s two triples were sandwiched around a Justise Winslow dunk attempt that rattled off the back rim and fueled a Pistons fast break.

“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Van Gundy said. “We had nothing to do with Winslow missing the dunk. He missed it and we went the other way. It was tremendous.”

Thus began a 41-19 run over the equivalent of a quarter that saw the Pistons go from down 11 to up 11.

“For him to hit the three and then come down and take another one, that was definitely gutsy,” Reggie Jackson said of his backcourt partner, who finished with 24 points. “I loved his confidence. He was feeling it. I was very confident when that shot went up. I was pretty much ready to walk to the bench because I know that’s one of those runs that immediately a timeout’s coming.”

After Miami’s 11 first-half threes on 23 launches, the Pistons limited the Heat to 14 tries – and only two makes – in the second half. And it was appropriate that it was Bradley’s two triples that sparked the turnaround. The Pistons, in fact, wound up making one more triple (14) than the Heat, hitting half their attempts. Tobias Harris, now shooting .506 from the 3-point line, was 5 of 8. Anthony Tolliver was 3 of 3 and both Bradley and rookie Luke Kennard – whose breakout game, with nine fourth-quarter points and 14 overall, was a major subplot – had two apiece.

“He’s not afraid to go out there and just play,” Tolliver said. “Some guys kind of shy away from the moment and he’s not one of those guys. He just stepped up and hit some big shots, stepped up and made some huge defensive plays.”

To be sure, Van Gundy – who wondered aloud on draft night if Kennard had the stuff to defend – was more delighted by what Kennard did at that end.

So the six tough baskets Kennard made, including a few that underscored his craftiness and understanding of angles, will be the headline but it’s what he showed on defense that will unlock a more permanent spot in the rotation for him.

“That’s not even what we were – and I think his teammates will tell you the same thing – really happy with,” Van Gundy said. “He had the great contest at the rim where he went up and got vertical. He came as the low man on a rotation on (Hassan) Whiteside. He had five defensive rebounds. He was in the battle tonight. I was really, really happy. I was happy with everybody, but really, really proud of him.”

“We have a lot of guys that make plays like that and I want to be a player that would be able to make those plays,” Kennard said. “If my shot’s not falling, I want to make an impact in other ways.”

But those six baskets Kennard sunk had a huge impact, as well. And a few of the biggest came away Miami’s Dion Waiters picked Kennard’s pocket at mid-court and converted it for a layup. It might have cowed a rookie of lesser mettle, but Van Gundy has come to learn that Kennard’s competitive streak is as wide as his scoring versatility. In the middle of an NBA game played at a fever pitch, Kennard looked fully at home.

“It feels great. We won five straight at home,” Kennard said. “Can’t get much better than that, honestly. We really stayed poised tonight. We really stayed together. We stayed connected and we had guys that made plays all around the court. Everybody made an impact when they got in and that’s what we needed.”

The perfect home stand was the first such sweep of five games at home since January-February 2008. It was the sixth straight home win, pushing their record at Little Caesars Arena to 7-1 and the eighth in their last nine games overall.

“When we got back from the West Coast road trip, that was a big emphasis,” Harris said. “We all said, we’re home five games; let’s rally all five wins and go five and oh. Just the fight that we had and the confidence to come in every single night ready to play – expect to win every game.”

Their reward is to play nine of their next 11 games on the road, starting with a three-game trip through the Midwest to Milwaukee, Indiana and Minnesota.

“The next three games on the road against teams you beat at home,” Van Gundy said. “So you know they want back at you. The challenges just keep mounting. You put wins in the bank because you know there are going to be tough stretches in the season. So you put wins in the bank and our guys on this home stand did a hell of a job.”

Only Boston, at 12-2, has a better record than the Pistons’ 10-3, a mark equaled by Golden State and Houston. That’s pretty good company they’re keeping.

“The energy is great in here. The locker room is fantastic,” said Andre Drummond, who did his part with 17 rebounds. “We deal with adversity well and we deal with success well, too. We don’t get too big-headed when we win games and we don’t get too down on ourselves when we lose.”

Well, to be fair, they haven’t had much of a test with the latter half of that equation – and that’s OK with them.


Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 112-103 win over the Miami Heat at Little Caesars Arena

1-A SUNDAY CLASSIC – You might have missed it, given that the Pistons played smack dab in the middle of an NFL Sunday, but that was a great NBA basketball game they won on Sunday. After falling behind by 11 points, the largest deficit of the game, the Pistons closed the third quarter on a 21-8 burst to lead by two points. They took a seven-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, then answered Miami’s 6-0 run with a 7-0 spurt. In going from 11 down in the third quarter to 11 ahead in the fourth, the Pistons outscored the Heat 41-19. The win gave the Pistons a clean sweep of their five-game home stand. Miami wrapped up a six-game road trip at 3-3. Miami, eighth in scoring defense and coming off a win at Utah on Friday in which the Jazz were held to 74 points and just seven in the third quarter, scored 58 points in the first half and did it with a barrage of 3-pointers, hitting 11 of 23 in the half alone. But turnabout proved fair play, the Pistons getting back in the game on the strength of 3-point shooting. It was their third straight game with 12-plus triples as they finished 14 of 28 with Tobias Harris (5 of 8) and Anthony Tolliver (3 of 3) doing significant damage. Rookie Luke Kennard scored a career-high 14 points and scored nine points, including a big triple, during the fourth-quarter run as the Pistons took their 11-point lead. Harris led the Pistons with 25 points while Avery Bradley added 24 and Andre Drummond grabbed 17 rebounds.

2-BACK-TO-BACK ISSUES – Stanley Johnson missed time late in training camp and the preseason finale with a lower-back injury, then missed the past two games with a left hip flexor injury. Stan Van Gundy hoped to get both Johnson and Jon Leuer – who missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle – back no later than Wednesday, when the Pistons start a three-game road trip at Milwaukee. But now Johnson’s back is again a problem. “He’s got no structural (problem),” Van Gundy said before Sunday’s game. “They’ve done the MRI; there’s nothing in there. He doesn’t have a disc problem. There’s no fractures in there, none of that. He’s got a Grade 1 sprain, but not feeling real good. Not loosening up or anything. It would be good to get those guys back, especially going back out on the road to play nine of 11 on the road. You don’t want to be without two of your top seven guys.” Reggie Bullock, who started again in Johnson’s spot, didn’t get a lot done, going scoreless on three shots in 21 minutes.

3-HEAT RISING – Miami’s 3-point extravaganza was especially stark in light of the Heat’s recent history. Just two years ago, Miami averaged a mere 18 3-point attempts a game. Last year, they took 50 percent more – 27 a game. This year, they entered Sunday’s game averaging nearly 31 shots a game, ninth most in the NBA. The Pistons, meanwhile, have been consistently among the league leaders at limiting 3-point attempts. Through their first 12 games, only four NBA teams had allowed fewer triples per game than Detroit’s 25.9. Miami had 23 by halftime. Ten of Miami’s first 13 shots were 3-pointers. The Pistons finished 26th in the league last season in 3-point attempts, taking only 23.4 per game. Through 12 games, they’d increased that to 28.2, 17th in the league. Miami finished 13 of 37 from the arc.

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