Pistons survive and escape Hornets on Boban’s big night

Boban Marjanovic scored 15 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as the Pistons survived a wild fourth quarter to beat Charlotte
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons know the feeling of trying to get a rebound when Boban Marjanovic is around.

“He does that same stuff in practice,” Marcus Morris said after Marjanovic put the Pistons in position to win a game they would – barely – by scoring 15 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a magnificent pinch-hitting role. “It’s impossible to block him out, practically. He’s got his hands up and we’re just swinging at the ball. That’s exactly what I saw out there tonight.”

That’s also exactly the image the Pistons have struck for the past few weeks – flailing away to catch an elusive target that keeps moving around on them with opponents bedeviling them by playing keep-away. They’d lost 8 of 10 games prior to surviving Charlotte’s rally and now face a five-game West Coast road trip.

Yeah, they needed that win. And they needed all of Marjanovic’s points and every one of his rebounds because the 44 points they gave up to Charlotte in the fourth quarter devoured all of their margin for error. The 115-114 win wasn’t secure until an NBA replay review of Marco Belinelli’s buzzer 3-pointer – banked in, no less – determined that the shot came off of his hand a fraction of a second late.

Reggie Jackson’s free throws with 1.9 seconds left broke a 113-all tie – the Pistons never trailed and led by 19 points with 9:54 to go; Charlotte scored 42 points in the last 10 minutes – and Jackson then batted a pass out of bounds with 0.5 seconds left. Belinelli was designated to inbound the ball for Charlotte on the sideline across from the Pistons’ bench. When Morris turned his back to him, Belinelli intentionally bounced it off of Morris’ back, caught the rebound and launched his shot.

“I turned around so he could think he could do something like that,” Morris said. “Point-five, there’s no way you can throw it off and then catch and he did exactly what I thought he would do. Kind of baited him into it. I was actually guarding the dude, but I had the feeling that he could do that or he might think about doing it and he did it.”

Morris, mired in a streak of low productivity, still had little luck shooting, though he managed 20 points on 5 of 15 shooting by hitting 3 of 6 triples and 7 of 8 free throws. But Morris came out aggressively on defense and grabbed 10 rebounds after averaging 2.3 over his past nine games. Jackson finished with 22 points and 11 assists and scored a dozen after returning with 7:26 to play to help the Pistons from getting buried by Kemba Walker’s 20 fourth-quarter points. And Tobias Harris was supremely productive again off the bench, leading the Pistons with 25 points.

But it’s got to be Big Boban on top of the marquee with his 15 points and 19 boards, including 9 of 11 free throws, delighting not only his teammates but the crowd, as well.

“They give me energy,” he said of the fans. “They help give me stronger focus and I’m happy for that. I try to do everything that we do in practice and show that on the court.”

The Pistons needed Marjanovic because Aron Baynes missed a second straight game with a sprained ankle and Andre Drummond (16 points, nine rebounds) picked up two quick fouls in each half and played just 25 minutes.

“He was great, tremendous,” Stan Van Gundy said of the 7-foot-4 Serbian signed as a free agent after one NBA season spent in San Antonio. “Great, great, great effort. Probably the biggest reason that game got close is I took him out for a rest and then it got late and I didn’t go back to him. I should’ve just left him in, as tired as he was, and, probably, game would’ve been over.”

Van Gundy said Wednesday, after Marjanovic held up well in his first shot at rotation minutes with Baynes out, that they urge him to be less unselfish and look to be more of a scorer. He’s got a feathery touch, as his foul shooting attests, to go with huge hands and incredible length. Though the Pistons are ably staffed at center with Drummond and Baynes, Van Gundy said Marjanovic has given him another viable option.

“He certainly was great tonight, so he certainly made a case for himself, that’s for sure,” Van Gundy said.

“He was phenomenal,” Jackson said. “Amazing. What he did was special. Hats off to the performance that he had and the energy he brought, just the dynamic that he brought to the game.”

Van Gundy’s brow was furrowed after the Pistons almost catastrophically squandered a 19-point lead in 10 minutes, but as tarnished as the win might have seemed a loss would have been devastating – especially with the 10-day road trip that starts Friday looming.

“Aw, man, we needed it. We needed it,” Morris said. “(Forty-four) points is inexcusable, but we go back, we see what we did wrong. We played three quarters hard. At the same time, we got the W.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from the 125-124 double-overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center

SLAM DUNK – It wasn’t exactly like last season’s script, but you could certainly spot the similarities. The Pistons didn’t have quite as far to come back – 18 points late in the third quarter last season, 10 this time. And Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond weren’t quite as dominant. But the double-overtime win at Portland was just as satisfying for a Pistons team that has now won consecutive games for the first time in more than a month and started a five-game road trip in the Rose City, slammed by an ice storm that postponed the game from Saturday to Sunday. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit 3 of 3 from the 3-point line in the second overtime, including the game winner with 9.4 seconds left. The Pistons then survived a potential game winner from C.J. McCollum – who forced the first two overtimes with 3-pointers – and had to “form a wall” with two-tenths of a second left to prevent a Portland tip-in off the inbounds pass. Jackson, who scored 26 of his 40 points here last season in the fourth quarter, finished with 31 points. Drummond had 28 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. And Caldwell-Pope finished with 26 points and four steals. It was the first overtime game this season for the Pistons. McCollum scored 35 for Portland and Allen Crabbe had 30 off the bench, hitting 12 of 15 shots and 5 of 5 from the 3-point line.

FREE THROW – Stan Van Gundy said before the game that Aron Baynes was available but still sore from the sprained left ankle suffered a week ago in the win at Miam. But he wasn’t certain if he would play Baynes and hasten his return after Boban Marjanovic had 15 points and a career-best 19 rebounds in Thursday’s win over Charlotte. “I think the way Boban played the other night, he certainly merits getting back out there, matchups permitting.” Portland didn’t use its usual backup center, though, bypassing Ed Davis with the second unit and using two more perimeter-oriented big men in 7-footer Meyers Leonard and athletic Noah Vonleh instead. Van Gundy used Baynes for the first six minutes of the second quarter. Van Gundy looked like he was lining things up to have Jon Leuer as the center with the backup unit, taking Leuer out midway through the first quarter. But it turned out Leuer played only those first six minutes, retiring for the night with a sore right knee. Van Gundy didn’t use anybody behind Drummond in the second half – until bringing both Baynes and Marjanovic in for the final two-tenths of a second to defend Portland’s inbounds pass when all the Blazers could do was tap the ball toward the basket. Drummond went the distance, playing all 34 minutes of the second half plus overtime and finishing at 52 minutes for the game.

3-POINTER – The Pistons rolled with the postponement of their game in Portland from Saturday to Sunday due to a winter storm and the forecast for dangerous freezing rain throughout the area. They’d already conducted their usual game-day morning walk through at Moda Center and were back at the team hotel when word came from the NBA of the postponement. Five players, Stan Van Gundy said, asked for access to the Moda Center and came back to get in extra work. At night, the group walked two blocks to Rock Bottom Brewery where Aaron Gray, Van Gundy said, dominated pool competition and the team watched the Lions-Seahawks playoff game. Even Van Gundy, who rarely leaves his room on the road, partook. “There was nothing going on yesterday and it was a good chance just to be with the guys,” Van Gundy said. “So I decided not to hole up in my room. I just wanted to go over and not be as antisocial as I usually am.” The Pistons had a team dinner planned at a Portland landmark seafood restaurant that they bumped to Sunday postgame.

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