Pistons stars return but not yet aligned; Minnesota wins as Griffin, Rose rejoin lineup
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Trust him, Dwane Casey isn’t complaining about having Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose back under any circumstances. But it’s like a trigonometry equation, he says, trying to put together a representative rotation while dealing with the minutes limits imposed on his twin stars, each of whom returned from injury amid Monday’s first blizzard of the season.
And when Andre Drummond added another layer of complexity to his conundrum by picking up two quick fouls, well, an MIT doctorate mathematician wouldn’t have had a fighting chance of making it work.
For all of that, the Pistons might have averted Monday’s 120-114 loss to Minnesota if the Timberwolves – makes sense that denizens of the NBA’s snowiest city would have made themselves right at home amid the wintry conditions – hadn’t come out and hit 8 of 10 3-point shots.
The bulk of that damage came in the last 2:25 of the quarter when Minnesota closed on a 15-1 run, including three of its early triples flurry.
If Drummond hadn’t picked up his second foul in the game’s seventh minute, he’s on the floor through the end of the first quarter to stabilize a unit made up of Thon Maker, Markieff Morris, Langston Galloway, Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk that absorbed the Minnesota body blows to set the tone for the game.
“We need Andre,” Casey said. “He struggled, but he was still a plus-8 so we need his presence on the floor. We’ll get it together.”
The good news for the Pistons is that Griffin returned almost seamlessly, finishing with 19 points, seven boards and six assists in 24 minutes. Rose’s timing was clearly off, but he was getting the same types of shots that enabled him to get out of the gates averaging 20 points in six games before missing the last four with a hamstring strain.
Most of Griffin’s scoring was done early – 16 in the first half while playing in five- to six-minute stints. Casey brought him back to close after Tony Snell’s triple pulled with the Pistons within five points with 2:27 to play. That’s a minutes pattern foreign to most players, let alone stars of Griffin’s ilk.
“I felt like I never really got into a good rhythm and as a result I felt like I didn’t really contribute down the stretch,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to be better in the fourth quarter, (be) depended on, taking care of the ball and all that. As a whole, I thought we just didn’t come out with the right energy.”
Casey moved Rose into the starting lineup with Reggie Jackson out for an extended period, but hoped to keep Drummond on the floor with Luke Kennard to bridge the gap between Griffin and Rose’s stints. The 15-point deficit after a quarter held up all night with Minnesota pushing it as high as 19 in the third quarter and the Pistons not getting it below double digits until the last minute of the third quarter. Snell’s triple to make it a five-point game was the closest it got and Minnesota answered back with its 14th triple of the night from Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 33 points.
“Tonight was all about defense,” Rose said. “They felt too comfortable. First game back, there’s going to be some rust there. But we’ll get it back.”
“It’s expected,” Griffin said of the elusiveness of rhythm after protracted layoffs and the lack of playing time with his teammates. “I think Derrick was on minutes restriction, too. I’m not sure how much he played, but we talked about it before, talked about it after. It’s tough to get into a rhythm. We have to use this time as well as we possibly can and figure stuff out, but I’m not discouraged by anything – other than our lack of effort.”
Kennard scored 25, hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers, and played a team-high 40 minutes. Galloway scored 18, hitting 4 of 6 from the arc, as did Snell in a 16-point outing. The Pistons hit 16 of 32 triples to give themselves a chance, but they never mounted enough of a defensive stand to strike doubt in Minnesota’s psyche.
“We started slow,” Kennard said. “Second half was better, but we have to do a better job of starting games and that’s on the starting unit. We knew that they’re the top scoring team in the first quarter but we didn’t look like we knew that. It’s just a thing of playing harder, ready to go mentally, ready to go physically. We had a good game plan, but we just didn’t play hard enough to execute it.”
But Kennard is intrigued by the possibilities of playing in a unit with Drummond, Griffin and Rose. Before Monday, their only time together came in a five-minute stint in the second preseason game. What does he think that group can become?
“Very dynamic,” he said. “The weapons that we have with a unit like that – we have shooting, playmaking. Blake and Andre are just a force down low and I think defensively we can hold our own. We have the right guys in this locker room and we want to win. But we have to figure it out. We’re starting to get everybody back. Just continue to work and get into a rhythm. We’ve just to figure this thing out and I think we have the guys who can do that.”