Pistons tune up for Golden State by smothering Bulls on D to win 4th straight

Rookie Bruce Brown’s defense on Zach LaVine helped the Pistons hold the Bulls to 88 points and Lavine almost 20 points under his scoring average.
Brian Sevald/Pistons photo
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Textbook definition of a trap game: Playing the Chicago Bulls on a Friday with the Golden State Warriors in town, feet up on a day off, waiting for a Saturday tussle.

The Pistons know how to read the schedule, too. If there were ever a time to take care of business and do it in a hurry, this was it – but you can’t really come out and admit as much, can you?

“The urgency to take care of somebody should be there whether we’re playing somebody the next night or not, whoever it is the next night,” Blake Griffin said after the Pistons took a 13-point lead after one quarter and rolled to a 107-88 win over the Bulls. “It is important, but we’ve got to have that every night – not just if we know we’re playing somebody else the next night.”

That’s another sign of the maturation that Griffin has helped speed for the Pistons, who won their fourth straight and eighth in 10 games to climb a season-high five games over .500 at 12-7. Now comes a rugged 11-game stretch against eight teams that all have solid or better chances of playing in the postseason, six of those games on the road.

They’re in a good place mentally and about to be in an improved place physically, too. Luke Kennard, who’s missed the last 15 games with a separated shoulder, scored 27 points after a scoreless first quarter in a rehab start for the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive on Friday night and is expected back Saturday. He might not play, but then again he might – and, in any case, he’ll almost surely be available Monday when Oklahoma City comes to town and figures to get thrust back into the mix soon.

“Our confidence is good,” Ish Smith said. “Even when we were struggling, our confidence was pretty good. We still feel there’s another level for us. We still don’t think we’re playing great basketball, but we’re learning through our wins.”

Reggie Jackson took care of getting the Pistons off to a fast start offensively, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first nine minutes by hitting all five of his shots, four of them triples as he took advantage of Chicago hedging toward Griffin, who matched Jackson’s 20 to go with 10 rebounds.

“He was great,” Griffin said. “When he’s aggressive like that and ready to go right out of the gate, it’s tough because then you’ve got to pick your poison – make a decision – and that makes doubling so much harder when somebody’s hitting shots from the outside.”

“He kind of set the tone offensively,” Dwane Casey said. “Defensively, too, I thought he did one of his better jobs of getting into the ball.”

Jackson is another reason the Pistons feel they’ve got a few more passing gears left.

“I think Reggie physically is getting back to form,” Casey said. “You sit out that long, having that injury as long as he was out, it’s probably going to be Christmas or first of the year before he gets back and gets into form.”

The only hiccup for the Pistons came to start the second half when Zach LaVine and rookie center Wendell Carter found a groove in pick and roll and Carter scored 15 of Chicago’s points in a 17-7 run that sliced a 15-point halftime lead to five. But the Pistons answered back with a 12-0 run.

“I thought we did a great job of taking away the thing they’ve been really good at of late, shooting the three. Held ’em to 14 percent,” Casey said. “We had one lapse there but other than that I really liked our effort.”

LaVine entered as the NBA’s ninth leading scorer at 25.6 points a game but exited as the 11th leading scorer at 24.8, held to eight points on 3 of 12 shooting with five turnovers. Reggie Bullock played LaVine for most of the first and third quarters but Bruce Brown wore him like a glove in his stints, too.

“Reggie Bullock did a good job of pursuing,” Casey said. “Zach is one of the dynamic scorers in our league and we held him to eight tonight, which is a heck of a job. I thought Bruce Brown came in and did a good job of pursuing. His energy, persistence – everybody that came in and guarded him did a good job.”

They’ll need all of that again on Saturday – Griffin’s scoring and rebounding, Jackson’s shooting, individual defensive efforts like Brown’s and Stanley Johnson’s on Golden State’s bevy of prolific scorers. They could use the 19 points, 20 rebounds and four blocked shots Andre Drummond provided, too.

“It’s not going to make or break our year, but it’s an opportunity to come in and compete against one of the top teams in the league,” Casey said. “And I don’t have any doubt our guys will come in and compete. It’ll be an exciting challenge for us.”