A pretty good 24 hours: Pistons add Blake Griffin, then knock off Cavs

Stanley Johnson scored a career-high 26 points as the Pistons scored a win over Cleveland to snap an eight-game losing streak
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – You know it’s a pretty good day for the franchise when the second-best thing that happens is beating the reigning Eastern Conference champions without your three leading scorers.

That’s what the Pistons accomplished Tuesday night less than 24 hours after adding Blake Griffin to the roster.

No Tobias Harris, no Avery Bradley – both gone to the Clippers in return for the five-time All-Star who’ll make his Pistons debut on Thursday if all goes well with the physical exams all six players involved in the deal must yet pass to finalize the deal – and no Reggie Jackson, yet the Pistons came one Ish Smith point shy of having all five starters score in double figures in their 125-114 win over Cleveland .

“We needed that. I needed that. They all needed that,” Stan Van Gundy said as the Pistons snapped an eight-game losing streak and gave their flagging playoff hopes a major shot of adrenaline.

“We just needed it, man. We played desperate,” said Anthony Tolliver, who scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half. “Much-needed win. Now it’s about the new guys, getting them implemented and hopefully they come in with the same attitude – come in and play hard and leave the rest to Coach to put us in position to win.”

You could throw a dart at the starting lineup and hit somebody who played arguably his best game of the season.

Start with Stanley Johnson, who maybe played the game of his career. He set a career scoring high with 26 points and tied a personal best with 10 rebounds.

“I told him after the game, I think that’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he was really good.”

He also defended LeBron James for most of his 40 minutes with brief interludes on another future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade, when Cleveland downsized and put James at power forward.

“We need that from him every night,” Andre Drummond said. “He’s able to do that. When he plays like that, he makes our team very good.”

Drummond was named to the All-Star team to replace the injured John Wall before the game and then affirmed the wisdom of commissioner Adam Silver’s choice with a wondrous stat line: 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting, 22 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots.

“I thought the third quarter was the best 12-minute stretch of defense that I’ve ever seen Andre play,” Van Gundy said. “He was everywhere. Help and then recover to his man and block shots, multiple-effort type stuff. He’s gotten a lot better and we’re just going to keep pushing and try to get him to be more consistent, but we’ve had far more good than bad with him. That third quarter – everybody really worked defensively – but he was back there protecting everything and that’s when you have a chance to be really good.”

Van Gundy spoke before the game of the greater opportunity for Johnson, Reggie Bullock and rookie Luke Kennard with the minutes void the departures of Harris and Bradley create on the wings. Johnson was brilliant and Bullock was nearly as good, tying his career high with 22 points and hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point line.

“It’s an opportunity with the players that we traded away. It’s time for players to step up and that’s what the mission for me, Stanley and Luke is, to show what we can do on the wings,” Bullock said. “We just came out with a lot of energy and just kept playing. We came out tough. We know we’re down some guys right now – the guys we traded for aren’t here yet – but we got 10, 11 guys here right now that are going to go to war. We’re not going to lay down.”

If their knees were ever going to buckle, the moment came with about seven minutes left after Kyle Korver hit quick-trigger triples on consecutive possessions to pull the Cavs within two, 103-101. Instead, the Pistons went on a 13-3 run and Cavs coach Ty Lue waved the white flag with 2:21 left by pulling James with the Pistons leading by 15.

The eight-game losing streak damaged the Pistons playoff chances as they’re three games back in the loss column to both Indiana and Philadelphia, currently in the 7-8 spots in the Eastern Conference standings. But with 33 games to go, the Pistons have a momentum win in the bank and Blake Griffin on the way.

Van Gundy said his coaching staff told him after the game the thought of Griffin as the cavalry riding in to prop up the troops played a factor in the spirit that infused the Pistons before a national TV audience.

“My assistant coaches, afterwards, that’s what they were talking about in there,” he said. “There’s a sort of new life and new confidence. There was a different level of belief going out.”

To end a pretty nightmarish month, a pretty terrific 24 hours.

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 125-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Little Caesars Arena

1-WHAT A WIN – Whatever becomes of the Pistons season from here, it was a pretty good 24 hours – from finalizing the Blake Griffin trade late Monday night to beating Cleveland without Griffin or the three players sent to Los Angeles to acquire him, including leading scorers Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. The Pistons has all five starters score at least 19 points and Stanley Johnson was dynamic in scoring a career high 26 points while grabbing 10 rebounds to match a career bests and guarding LeBron james as well as anyone could. Andre Drummond had 21 points and 22 rebounds. With the Pistons up seven points with a little less than eight minutes to play, Kyle Korver hit a pair of 3-point shots on consecutive possessions around a Stanley Johnson free throw to pull Cleveland within two points. From that point on the Pistons outscored Cleveland 22-13 to win going away. Cleveland lost Kevin Love to a broken left hand in the first half that’s expected to sideline him at least six weeks. A 20-5 run to open the third quarter gave the Pistons an 11-point lead after they trailed by four at halftime.

2-GREATER OPPORTUNITY – It wasn’t the primary motivation for adding Blake Griffin – getting a five-time All-Star in his prime at 28 stands on its own – but Stan Van Gundy said the opportunity to give more playing time and responsibility to not just Stanley Johnson but to Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock was a consideration in the deal that sent leading scorers Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley out. Bullock got into second-half foul trouble that limited his minutes, but he was as responsible as anyone for the Pistons getting out of the gates fast against Cleveland. Bullock had nine points in less than eight minutes of the first quarter and 16 in the first half. While Johnson was having a career night, Bullock finished with 22 points and hit 4 of 6 from the 3-point line.

3-THURSDAY DEBUT? – The Pistons hope to have Blake Griffin in uniform on Thursday night when they host Memphis, but it depends on all six players involved in the trade having their physical exams completed for that to happen. Griffin was due in on a flight from Los Angeles on Tuesday night and he – along with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson, included in the deal – but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to practice on Wednesday. Because of the three-hour time change, even if Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic are scheduled to have their physicals on Wednesday it’s unlikely they’d be completed in time for the ex-Clippers to go through their first practice as Pistons. The optimum scenario, in all likelihood, is that Griffin gets to go through Thursday morning’s walk through and be in uniform that night.

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