‘That’s why I play basketball’ – Pistons rally to win at Orlando, snap losing skid as bench sparkles
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ORLANDO – You want to encapsulate the end of the Pistons’ five-game losing streak in one possession, take the one that came near the midway point of the fourth quarter.
It started with Jose Calderon’s quick hands digging the ball out in the paint for a turnover and the ball going ahead to Stanley Johnson, who missed a triple. But Zaza Pachulia cleaned up the rebound and the Pistons got another 14 seconds. Calderon got the ball on the left wing and had a chance to launch a 3-pointer, but passed to a more open teammate, Johnson, at the top of the arc.
He, too, had a chance to take the triple on a night he made 3 of 6. But he, too, saw a teammate with an even better open 3-pointer, Langston Galloway, on the right wing. Galloway drained the shot to put the Pistons – who’d trailed by 11 late in the third quarter – ahead by seven with 7:24 left.
“We went good shot, better shot and then a best shot,” Johnson said. “Knock it in.”
That sequence summed up the key points of the 103-96 win over an Orlando team coming off a convincing win at San Antonio and a two-game win streak.
Defensive tenacity from Calderon, who moments earlier had prevented an Orlando layup in a two-on-one transition. Grit from Pachulia, whose veteran savvy and toughness have become integral to Dwane Casey’s bench. Unselfishness from teammates who absorbed Casey’s mantra of quick decision-making and finding open shooters.
And, lastly, a second unit that bailed the Pistons out in each half, contributing to a 17-0 run that erased a 15-point first-half deficit as well as their second-half punch to lead an 21-point turnaround from 11 down to 10 ahead in the game’s final minute.
“Those two runs were resilient,” Casey said. “We dug ourselves a hole. Second unit came in and did an excellent job of getting us back in the game. It was no genius; it was about playing hard. If we’re not making shots, we better play hard. That’s what we did tonight.”
The Pistons opened the season 4-0 and shot nearly 38 percent from the 3-point arc in doing so, then lost five straight while shooting 26 percent from the arc to sink to 29th in the NBA. They still underperformed in this win – 11 of 37, 29.7 percent – but they outworked their troubles.
That bench, especially, which put the lie to the axiom that units need playing time to foment chemistry. With Johnson joining the bench for the second straight game as Glenn Robinson III again started while Reggie Bullock returned from a two-game absence to reclaim his spot at shooting guard, Johnson joined Pachulia, Calderon, Galloway and Ish Smith in a new combo that started both the second and fourth quarters while the starters rested en masse.
They all registered plus/minus numbers ranging from plus-14 (Calderon) to plus-20 (Galloway). Galloway and Johnson had enormous impact as each grabbed six rebounds and dished three assists, Johnson scoring 13 points and Galloway 12 as they made 7 of 14 from the 3-point arc while their teammates went 4 of 23. The bench combined for eight steals, Smith and Calderon registering three apiece, and was guilty of only six of the team’s 20 turnovers while contributing 11 of their 21 assists.
“It definitely was the defense,” Galloway said of the spark that lit the unit’s fuse. “It was great to see Stanley just relax and let it come to him. He was just in the right spot most of the time, wasn’t overthinking it – just playing basketball. He was a big part of the second unit tonight and helping us overcome that deficit.”
The guy who salvaged the night for the starters was Andre Drummond, whom Casey called “our player of the game.” Drummond hit a banked triple at the first-quarter buzzer to complete the 10-0 run in the final minute and had 13 points and eight rebounds in the opening 12 minutes on his way to 23 and 19, finishing a rebound shy of his fifth 20-20 game. Blake Griffin added 20 and Reggie Jackson 15, including seven in the final five minutes.
By the time Casey waved Drummond, Griffin and Jackson back into the game with 5:09 to play, the bench had handed them a five-point lead to protect, with Johnson’s pass to Galloway a few minutes earlier the highlight of their run.
As Galloway’s shot tore through the net and Orlando coach Steve Clifford called a frustrated timeout, Johnson turned toward the Pistons bench and pumped his fists, screaming a mixture of triumph and joy that way.
“That’s why I play basketball,” he said. “That’s playing the right way. You practice certain things and when you’re able to execute them in the game, that’s why you play basketball. That’s why we take it so seriously. That’s why we game plan. That’s why we practice is to have plays like that. There’s nothing better than winning games like that, to me. That’s why I was so happy. That’s what we shoot for every day.”