Pistons roll past Pacers, but Jackson injury puts a damper on the celebration

Reggie Jackson suffered a third-quarter injury in the Pistons win over Indiana in which he set a season high of 13 assists in just 21 minutes
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The Pistons got a 21-game sample size without Reggie Jackson last season and survived as well as they could have hoped. They’ll need to do it again now – though they hope it won’t be nearly that long.

But sprained ankles can be tricky things and you don’t have to look any farther than the current Pistons infirmary for a reminder. They expected Jon Leuer to miss about 10 days when he twisted his left ankle at Los Angeles on Oct. 31, but he’s still out and a return isn’t imminent.

Jackson’s right ankle sprain – X-rays taken Tuesday were negative with an MRI scheduled for Wednesday – sucked a good deal of the oxygen out of a fairly significant win Tuesday as the Pistons throttled division rival Indiana 107-83 to win the season series 3-1 over a team that’s been at their hip in the standings for the last few weeks. The win lifted the Pistons to 19-14, a half-game better than Indiana’s 19-15. The Pistons currently hold the No. 4 seed in the East with Washington and Indiana on their heels.

Jackson was playing no less than one of his best games of the season, registering 13 assists in 21 minutes. He had seven in less than eight minutes of the first quarter as the Pistons sprinted to a 38-15 lead late in the quarter behind Jackson’s passing and Tobias Harris’ torrid shooting. Harris scored 21 of his 30 in the quarter, hitting his first eight shots and missing only one – in just 11 attempts – for the game, including a 7 of 8 performance from the 3-point line.

“Whew. He was unbelievable,” Van Gundy said of Jackson. “What did he have in the first quarter? Eleven (assists) at halftime, 13 in 21 minutes? Incredible. Played great. Thirteen assists, one turnover. Pretty damn good.”

The Pistons will be comfortable with Smith as the starter, but what Van Gundy does for backup minutes is up in the air. Last season, the late addition of Beno Udrih proved critical as the Pistons went 11-10 despite playing 12 of their 21 games on the road while Jackson recovered from an October platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee.

“Ish did a great job of taking over when Reggie went down last year,” said Andre Drummond, who outrebounded Indiana’s starters by more than double (18-8, the Pistons outrebounding Indiana 46-26) while scoring 21 points. “He won’t miss a beat.”

“We know as a team we have depth, but it’s going to be put to the test now,” Harris said. “We’re going to need guys to step up and be ready and make things happen.”

Van Gundy is likely to give Langston Galloway first crack at backup point guard minutes. His ability to play both backcourt spots led the front office to not sign a pure third point guard. Galloway has played relatively little at the position this season, though he filled in seamlessly in a win at Atlanta earlier this month when Smith played himself into foul trouble. Galloway said he’s been used more in practices at point guard, so he’s comfortable and ready.

“Coach normally rotates us in practice. He’ll have me and Reggie substitute in and out and sparingly in games I’ve played at point. Just go out there confidently and try to direct the team as best as possible. I’m just a small piece in the big scheme of things.”

The other option is Dwight Buycks, signed to a two-way contract over the off-season. He made his debut against Indiana, logging the final two minutes, when the Pistons had him on hand and active due to injuries to Leuer and Avery Bradley. Buycks, as a two-way player, is limited to 45 days with the Pistons. They would have the option to convert him to a standard contract. They could also shop for another point guard since the Pistons have an open roster spot. A third option is signing a player to a 10-day contract when that becomes available in early January.

“We’ll see as it goes,” Van Gundy said.

Harris admitted the Jackson injury – which came with less than six minutes left in the third quarter as the starters re-established dominance after Indiana chopped its deficit to eight in the second quarter before again trailing by 13 at halftime – wobbled the Pistons a bit.

“It did today, definitely. Especially when I saw his ankle. He was hopping off. It even looked swollen. He was playing such a good game up until that. But we’re just going to need him to get healthy and be ready when he comes back.”

Other than Harris, the Pistons really had a poor shooting night, which further speaks to their dominance. Take Harris’ 7 of 8 from the arc out of the equation and the Pistons shot 5 of 26 from three. But they dominated the boards and played suffocating defense, limiting Indiana leading scorer Victor Oladipo to a season-low 13 points.

“Our goal was to make him as uncomfortable as possible,” Drummond said. “Reggie Bullock did an excellent job of really getting into him and making it tough for him. On the pick and rolls, I got up into him and made sure he didn’t get any pull-up threes, so he had to shoot contested twos and contested layups.”

The Pistons hope Bradley, who missed his fifth game, will be ready to return from his hip/pelvic injury next week, but they’re likely looking at a minimum of two games without both starting guards. Six of their next eight games come on the road.

“That was tough to see my guy go down like that,” Drummond said. “He’ll be OK. It’s not as bad as we thought it was, but he just needs to rest and get himself together and he’ll be right back.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 107-83 win over the Indiana Pacers at Little Caesars Arena

1-ANOTHER BIG INJURY – It might have become one of Reggie Jackson’s best games. It certainly was his best playmaking game of the season, on course to challenge his career high of 20 assists. He had 13 with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter, the Pistons ahead by 17, when he crumpled under their basket and grabbed at his right ankle. Jackson stayed down for a few minutes and needed assistance to get to the locker room, placing no weight on his injured leg. It was diagnosed as a right ankle sprain, severity unknown. Sprains can be tricky. The Pistons expected Jon Leuer to miss about 10 days when he sprained his ankle on Oct. 31. He’s still out and there is no definitive timeline for a return. The Pistons went on to a relatively easy win – they led by 23 behind Tobias Harris’ sizzling 21-point first quarter, though it was cut to eight in the second quarter before the starters restored order – to take the season series from Indiana, 3-1. Now the key will be surviving without their starting backcourt of Jackson and Avery Bradley, who missed his fifth game with a hip/pelvic injury and is likely to miss at least two more games. Harris finished with 30 points, sitting out the fourth quarter. Andre Drummond went for 21 points and 18 rebounds.

2-HARRIS ON FIRE – Through 20 games, Tobias Harris was playing at a level – considering the team’s 14-6 record – that put him in serious consideration for an All-Star berth. He averaged 19.6 points and shot .467 from the 3-point arc over that span. His play leveled off in December as the Pistons endured a seven-game losing streak in which production was down pretty much across the board for all players. But Harris bounced back with 24 points and tied a season high with five assists in Friday’s win over New York and had a career half against the Pacers. That was just warming up for Tuesday’s win over the Pacers. Harris made his first eight shots – six of them from the 3-point line – before his first miss, late in the first half, when he had to shoot a heavily contested triple with the shot clock running down. He finished with 30, four off his career high, while playing only the third quarter after a 26-point first half. Harris his 10 of 11 shots and 7 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

3-AND EVERYBODY ELSE – It was a case of Tobias Harris and not much help from the 3-point arc for the Pistons. At one point, Harris was 7 of 8 from the arc and the rest of the team was 3 of 17. They would finish 12 of 34. Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson both hit 1 of 7 from the arc. Luke Kennard hit 2 of 2 in the first quarter but played little – just 11 minutes – as Stan Van Gundy chose to match Stanley Johnson on Lance Stephenson, who played 32 minutes off Indiana’s bench despite coming out midway through the fourth quarter when Nate McMillan cleared his bench. Reggie Jackson and Anthony Tolliver both were 0 of 3 from the arc and Langston Galloway 1 of 4. Galloway likely will be called upon to play some at point guard now while Jackson recuperates. The Pistons also have Dwight Buycks, who made his season debut in the final two minutes. Buycks is one of two players on the NBA’s new two-way contracts. He’s limited to 45 days with the Pistons.

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