Pistons survive Drummond ejection, pick up 5th straight win in dropping Nets

Reggie Jackson’s strong second half helped the Pistons withstand the ejection of Andre Drummond as they won their fifth straight game
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW YORK – Blake Griffin didn’t suit up, missing his third straight game. Reggie Jackson, playing his first back to back, looked out of sorts in the first half. Andre Drummond got ejected late in the third quarter.

Those are the three players on whose shoulders rest the immediate future of the Pistons. But they wouldn’t have gotten out of Brooklyn with a win Sunday night without the three players behind them: Anthony Tolliver, Ish Smith and Eric Moreland.

Tolliver grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds to go with 10 points and his usual stout defense. Smith scored 17 first-half points and ignited a 17-3 finishing kick to break a tie and give the Pistons a lead they wouldn’t lose. Moreland had to go the distance in the fourth quarter with Drummond sent to the showers with 18 seconds left in the third quarter and responded with six boards, two blocks and two assists in the final 12 minutes.

“Sometimes, you just have to figure out a way to win,” Tolliver said after the 108-96 win, the fifth straight for the Pistons, who’ve won seven of eight to pull within three games of .500 at 37-40 with five left. “Whenever things are not going your way or you have some guys go out – whether it be by injury or by whatever – you just have to figure out a way to win. We had guys step up. Eric stepped in and played great. He was really controlling the paint. You couldn’t ask any more of him.”

Both teams were gassed, both playing a back to back and their third game in four nights. In addition to losing Drummond and playing without Griffin as well as James Ennis, the Pistons finished the game with Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock out after both took blows to the head.

The Pistons needed to rely on their fourth-quarter defense because they didn’t have the energy to play offense with the type of force necessary to rock the Nets back on their heels.

“Both teams were on fumes going down the stretch,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We were just walking the ball up the floor. We had no pace. Nothing. But we just grinded it out. It was a good win.”

Jackson committed four first-half turnovers, each of them fueling Nets fast breaks that led to a dunk or layup. But he wound up playing 32 minutes, the most since returning seven games ago following a nearly three-month absence, and scored 21 second-half points, 12 in the fourth quarter. His 29 points were his most since a double-overtime win at Portland in January 2017.

“We couldn’t get the pace going, so I just went back to him,” Van Gundy said. “If we’re going to play half court, we were going to play out of his pick and rolls. Then we had Luke and Bullock both woozy. So we were struggling a little but there, but Reggie made enough plays and our defense was good enough that we got the win.”

The Nets scare teams more than their 25-52 record suggests because theirs is a roster filled with dribble penetrators and 3-point bombers.

“They put you in a lot of crazy situations,” Tolliver said. “They’re always very aggressive to shoot threes, but they’re also a really good dribble-drive team. They put you in a lot of scramble mode, but we did an awesome job of continuing to work and guys were continuing to fly around.”

The Nets finished 12 of 43 from the arc, 28 percent, but got big makes from Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell on consecutive possessions to pull within six with 2:28 left. But Jackson coaxed a foul out of LeVert on the ensuing trip and made three free throws and then Stanley Johnson’s steal and layup made it an 11-point game. Johnson finished with 17 points and four steals.

“Stanley was very engaged in the game tonight at both ends,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he played really, really hard and his steal for the layup was sort of the clincher.”

But it was another night where the depth Van Gundy added to the roster last summer paid dividends, starting with that brilliant burst in the last 3:33 of the first half led by Smith.

“We weren’t playing very well and then we got going. A lot of it was Ish just full speed, going at people,” Van Gundy said. “We were getting stops – that’s credit to everybody – and then Ish just took over. I’m sure Ish is wondering after that first half – 17 points – why the hell he only played seven minutes in the second half. And it’s a fair question.”

“Going into the season, we said we had depth,” Moreland said. “I think everybody stepped up to the plate. Henry’s (Ellenson) been playing well. I’m trying to go out and do the best I can. Everybody’s coming together and trying to finish the season strong.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday night’s 108-96 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center

1-HANGING ON – What appeared headed for a routine Pistons victory on Easter evening turned dramatically late in the third quarter when Andre Drummond and Quincy Acy were ejected after a brief skirmish involving pushing but no punches under the basket. The Pistons led 83-70 at the time with 18 seconds left in the quarter. The Pistons struggled to generate much in the way of offense in the fourth quarter, scoring just 10 points in the first 10 minutes, but they didn’t allow the Nets to get anything going, either. Triples from Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell pulled them within six points with a little more than two minutes to play, but Reggie Jackson hit three free throws and Stanley Johnson’s steal and dunk seconds later pushed the lead to 11. It was Jackson’s first back to back since returning from a nearly three-month injury absence and he struggled in the first half. Jackson, after not committing a single turnover in 25 minutes of Saturday’s win at New York, coughed it up four times in the first half and all four led to Nets fast-break layups or dunks. Ish Smith to the rescue. Smith scored all 17 of his points in the first half and fueled a late 13-0 run broke a 45-all tie and gave the Pistons a 62-48 halftime lead. They stretched it to 20 in the third quarter before the Nets cut it to 13 headed to the fourth. Jackson scored 12 of his 29 in the fourth quarter. The Pistons have won seven of their last eight and have pulled within three games of .500. Eric Moreland had a strong fourth quarter in relief of Drummond with six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots over the final 12 minutes. Anthony Tolliver finished with 10 points and a season-high 12 rebounds as the Pistons held a 53-40 rebounding edge.

2-DEFENSE ON THE RISE – Defense has underpinned the Pistons winning stretch as they’ve been a top-five defensive team since March 1 and at the heart of that ranking is minimizing the damage done from 3-point range. Since March, the Pistons have been No 1 in the NBA in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot just .311 from the arc. Brooklyn came into the game No. 2 in attempts behind Houston with 40 percent of the Nets shots coming from the 3-point line. And the Nets held form, pumping up triples at an even higher rate than usual. But they made just 12 of 43. The Pistons, meanwhile, had a subpar night from the 3-point line, at least in terms of the number of attempts. They average 28.6 tries a game but only launched 19, making seven.

3-ENNIS OUT – James Ennis, who’s given the Pistons solid minutes and reliable defense over the past two months since being added at the trade deadline, missed the game with a sore right hand. The injury occurred when he was hit on Michael Beasley’s illegal screen during Saturday’s win over the Knicks. That left Stanley Johnson as the only true small forward on the roster. If the Pistons had to go short at that position, the Nets were a good team for it. Johnson matched up well with DeMarre Carroll but the Nets backup at the position is Joe Harris, who represents no physical mismatch for Kennard. Johnson played a strong game, finishing with 17 points, four assists, three rebounds and four steals, including the big one in the final two minutes. Kennard could have had a big night but simply didn’t make shots he’d usually hit and finished with nine points on 3 of 10 shooting.

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