A pretty good 24 hours: Pistons add Blake Griffin, then knock off Cavs
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
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.