Super sub Stanley Johnson? His bench turn leads Pistons to rout of Bucks
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – The Pistons trailed 29-20 late in the first quarter, about time for Stan Van Gundy to start sprinkling his bench into the mix – the time when games have unraveled swiftly and emphatically for them of late.
Didn’t happen this time. It was tied at 32 by the time the quarter ended and the Pistons made skid marks out of Milwaukee after that. Milwaukee’s first 29 points took 10 minutes and its next 29 took 17.
The bench, dominated in losses to Boston and Charlotte coming out of the break, outscored Milwaukee 65-30 this time.
Then again, it wasn’t exactly the same bench. Stanley Johnson came off of it this time and he gets the game ball for scoring 19 points with six rebounds and four assists. He also played as big a role as anyone – Blake Griffin and Anthony Tolliver also took their turns – in making Giannis Antetokounmpo a non-factor.
In Johnson’s 30 minutes, the Pistons were 36 points better than Milwaukee in a game they won 110-87.
Is it that simple – move Johnson to the bench, bench problems solved?
“Hey, one-game sample size,” Johnson said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. The season brings you the game plan. The games come to you; you don’t come to the games. So you just try to play as hard as possible. That’s the first thing. We played hard tonight, harder than the other team and that’s where it starts. We have to continue that to be where we want to be at.”
Nothing underscored that whole “playing harder than the other team” thing than the rebounding numbers, 57-35 in favor of the Pistons. Andre Drummond had 16, 10 offensive, and Eric Moreland – who set career highs in scoring (10) and rebounding (12) – added five offensive boards. Their 22 offensive rebounds, coupled with a mere 11 turnovers, enabled the Pistons to get up 22 more shots than Milwaukee.
“I liked the way we played,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We had a lot of movement, cutting, got a lot of guys involved. Really energetic offensively, I thought, and then after the first quarter I thought we defended pretty well, too.”
Van Gundy started James Ennis over Johnson in part to get a little more shooting with a first unit lacking perimeter balance with Ish Smith starting and since the Blake Griffin trade, but also to get Johnson’s overall impact and force with a struggling second unit. And he wanted Johnson in the game when Milwaukee went to its bench, now led by Jabari Parker, and brought Antetokounmpo back to anchor its second unit.
“Trying to get a balance there of shooting in the starting lineup and energy in the second unit,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll see. It worked tonight.”
Griffin threatened a triple-double in 25 minutes and might have gotten there but didn’t play after exiting with four minutes left in the third quarter. He finished with eight points, nine boards and seven assists despite missing his first six shots. Drummond had 15 points to go with his 16 boards and Reggie Bullock scored 12 of his 16 in the first quarter.
But the bench produced four double-figures scorers in Johnson, Moreland, Dwight Buycks and Langston Galloway.
“Stanley coming in, Eric playing so well and Lang knocking down shots – it was big for those guys to come in and help us off the bench to bring that great energy,” Bullock said.
“I thought our starters played much better defensively when they came back in the second quarter than they had in the first quarter,” Van Gundy said. “Their intensity picked up and I do think the bench’s play gives you something to point to and say, hey, we’ve got to play the same way they were playing out there. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
The win leaves the Pistons three games back of Miami for the final playoff spot with 22 games to play as they head out for three games in four nights, including what seems like a virtual must-win game Saturday with the Heat.
“We’ve got, what? Twenty-one games left?” Johnson asked. “And we’re back what? Three games? We’ve got to get on it. There’s no sugar coating that. Everyone in the gym knows it. We know it. Y’all know it. It’s our job to do our job.”
Johnson certainly did his job in a runaway win, solidifying a bench unit that had gone from strength to glaring weakness. With a quarter of the season still ahead of them, it provided just enough hope to give them reason to think they might still making something of it yet.