Pistons turn up the D and roll past Hawks without Drummond, Jackson

Ish Smith led the Pistons in a dominant third quarter as they beat Atlanta to go to 1-1 in the preseason
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Andre Drummond couldn’t play. Boban Marjanovic didn’t play. And still the Pistons outrebounded Atlanta by 20 and won by 22.

The Hawks didn’t play three of their key perimeter players – Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Marco Belinelli – but the Pistons won this game (109-87) with their frontcourt depth and their defense.

Stan Van Gundy came into Friday’s second preseason game thinking he had more than a few options in his frontcourt and he left with a few more than even he might have guessed.

Eric Moreland, probably his fourth option at center, grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes in his debut and prompted Stanley Johnson to offer a comparison that ought to perk up the ears of Pistons fans.

“Eric did a phenomenal job,” he said. “That’s what he does. Thirteen rebounds, two points. Like Dennis Rodman almost.”

Drummond sat out with a case of conjunctivitis and Van Gundy sat Marjanovic so he could get a long look at not only Moreland but Jon Leuer at center. Leuer was as good as Moreland, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with six points, three assists and a blocked shot. Moreland wasn’t credited with a block or an assist, but he challenged a bunch of shots and put into evidence the passing ability Van Gundy often mentions.

If Moreland felt any jitters, they weren’t apparent.

“I felt at home,” he said. “I want to always continue to do what I do best, what they brought me here for, what I’ve done my whole career. Nothing to be jittery about. Just do what I do best.”

Van Gundy talked before training camp about backup center being a “two-headed monster” with Marjanovic and Leuer. Moreland gives him something else to think about, but Leuer might have to play center in order to see the floor the way Henry Ellenson and Anthony Tolliver played at power forward.

In 34 minutes combined – Tobias Harris started and spent 14 of his minutes at power forward and 14 at small forward in scoring 17 points as one of six Pistons in double figures – Tolliver and Ellenson combined for 29 points on 10 of 15 shooting and 3 of 7 from the 3-point arc.

Tolliver scored 11 points in 11 first-half minutes. Ellenson scored nine on 4 of 4 shooting in just six minutes of the third quarter when the Pistons blew open a seven-point halftime lead with a 37-21 explosion.

“Henry’s just playing at a high level,” Van Gundy said. “All those guys. That’s why it’s going to be tough, playing-time wise. Tolliver, Henry, Jon, Tobias – all playing at a high level right now. Obviously Andre played really well the first game, Moreland played really well. So our bigs are playing at a very, very high level.”

Johnson thinks part of the reason is that the Pistons have such frontcourt versatility that they see everything in practice they’ll see from any opponent. He included camp invitees Landry Nnoko and Derek Willis, each of whom played the final two minutes along with Luis Montero, one of two Pistons on the NBA’s new two-way contracts.

“All the guys – Eric, Landry, Derek, Andre, Boban – they all do a good job of pushing each other every day in practice. We have a crazy kind of duo where we can give all the bigs every look they’re going to face in the game – athletic, shooting, a mix of both.”

The perimeter guys weren’t too shabby, either, even though they were without Reggie Jackson, who missed his second straight game as the Pistons are being cautious with his groin strain. Avery Bradley led them with 18 points. Ish Smith had 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting with eight assists and only one turnover. Langston Galloway had a nightmarish shooting game (0 of 9) but had six assists and no turnovers. Rookie Luke Kennard had nine points, four boards and three assists.

And after allowing Atlanta to score 17 points in the first six minutes and 29 in the first quarter, the Pistons suffocated them over the last three quarters, holding the Hawks to 58 points. Some of that was the juice that Bradley and Johnson bring to their perimeter defense and some of it was the activity in the middle of both Moreland and Leuer.

“Jon and Eric both did a really good job,” Van Gundy said. “Eric can bring that to us, the rebounding. He brings good energy. He’s tough as heck. He didn’t run the floor as well in either direction as I would like, but other than that I thought he played really well.”

And just maybe turned Van Gundy’s backup center race into a three-headed monster.

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