Pistons get back to .500 as Harris leads 20-point win over Knicks

Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 28 points as they dominated the Knicks to even their record at 33-33.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – It didn’t require a Marcus Morris timeout tirade this time. He said all he needed to with the box score, particularly the line for Carmelo Anthony: 13 points, nine shots.

“Never seen that in my life, even when I wasn’t playing against him,” he said. “He’s a great player. Not taking anything away from him. He was passive, trying to get his teammates involved.”

When the Pistons get more points from Morris and Tobias Harris in their matchups with Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis than the Knicks get, then the Pistons are going to like their chances every time. The count was 35-31 in the Pistons’ favor in their 112-92 win over New York.

Harris, back in the starting lineup, took care of the offense. He scored a season-high 28 points, 23 of them in the first half as the Pistons built an early 18-point lead that was threatened – the Knicks crept within three points late in the third quarter – but never overcome.

But he also played a great all-around game, holding the 7-foot-3 Porzingis to 18 points on 16 shots and registering seven rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots while Morris had Anthony shackled on the other side.

“We played good defense,” Morris shrugged, back in character after the first-quarter outburst that spurred the Pistons after ceding a 15-point lead to Cleveland in what became a rousing win. “They missed shots. Great players. It gets like that some nights.”

Morris didn’t score much himself – seven points – but the Pistons got plenty of offense in running up a 66-point first half. Harris was magnificent, attacking Porzingis off the dribble and making him pay from the 3-point line (3 of 8) when he laid back. Reggie Jackson continued his resurgent play, finishing with 19 points and eight assists and attacking the rim like the Jackson of last season. And that helped Andre Drummond clean up with 24 points and 15 rebounds, five on the offensive end.

“He’s really starting to find himself,” Drummond said of Jackson. “Defensively, he’s where he needs to be. He’s making the effort offensively to get everybody involved and also be able to get his shots off, too. He just looks like a different player out there. It’s fun to play with him.”

The Pistons forced 18 Knicks turnovers and continued their recent trend of taking immaculate care of the ball with seven. With just 52 turnovers in their past seven games, the Pistons have moved to No. 1 in the NBA in fewest turnovers per game.

But their activity on defense is more the revelation. They’ve now forced 14 or more in five of the last eight games. The 18 New York turnovers were converted into 26 points.

“We’re getting much more active with our hands, putting much more pressure on the ball and that’s really helping us,” Stan Van Gundy said. “Those turnovers lead us into points and we’re a team that has trouble scoring at times, so to be able to get out in transition is good for us.”

That’s one of several positive trend lines for the Pistons, who have now won 12 of their past 18 games to pull even at .500 for the first time in nearly two months. With 16 games to go, they control their playoff destiny.

“It’s great,” Morris said about squaring their record at 33-33. “We’re at .500. Now we want to continue to improve, continue to go forward, not take any steps back.”

“It means a lot,” Harris said. “It’s something that we’ve flirted with for some time. Now it’s the time for us to keep it moving and push forward and really make this final push.”

The immediate schedule will make it difficult for the Pistons to stay on the right side of .500. Up next is another back to back – they still have five remaining – starting Tuesday at Cleveland and winding up with Utah at The Palace.

But they’ve got Jackson playing well, Drummond playing with consistently high energy and contributions coming up and down the roster.

“Now it’s time to climb,” Ish Smith said. “We kept climbing, trying to get to that .500 mark. Now we’re here and now it’s time to push on.”

“We’ve got 16 games left and we’re trying to make a playoff push,” Morris said. “These fans deserve to see us in the playoffs at The Palace one more time and we’re trying to give them that.”

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 128-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicklen Loans Arena

SLAM DUNK – It wasn’t just that the Cavaliers made their first 10 3-point shots, though that did tend to tilt the scoreboard heavily in their favor. It was that those 10 triples came from seven different players – and one of them was not named LeBron James. It’s not easy to plug one big gusher, but it’s a little more manageable than plugging seven spread from one boundary to the other. Cleveland missed its first shot of the game, then scored on its next nine possessions without missing a shot. The Cavs hit 23 of 26 shots in the game’s first 16 minutes and had 60 points at that juncture. At halftime, Cleveland had just 12 points in the paint but 74 overall – the most any Pistons opponent has scored in a half this season – for some context as to how well the Cavs shot it. The Pistons missed twice as many point-blank tip-ins in the first half as the Cavs missed 3-point attempts when they were 11 of 14. The Pistons managed to stay reasonably closer because they were also scoring at an elevated pace early, trailing 21-16 seven minutes into the game despite Cleveland shooting 90 percent and making its three 3-point attempts to that point. The Pistons trailed by 27 at halftime, quickly cut it to 20 but couldn’t gather any momentum from there. The only bright spot: With a tough back-to-back game at The Palace looming with Utah rested and waiting for them, nobody played more than 26 minutes. Cleveland finished the game appropriately, with a 3-pointer from Derrick Williams to give them 128 points – one more than the previous season high by a Pistons opponent, Golden State’s 127 on Jan. 12. The Cavs finished 19 of 30 from the arc.

FREE THROW – Probably worth remembering that the Cavaliers’ best 3-point shooter didn’t contribute to the onslaught. Kyle Korver didn’t play, missing the game with a foot injury. He’s shot .487 from the 3-point line in 26 games for the Cavs this season. Korver was acquired to address the absence of J.R. Smith, who broke his wrist in December but returned last week when the Pistons beat Cleveland 106-101 at The Palace. Smith hit just 1 of 9 that night, but he’s apparently knocked off the rust; this time, he hit 3 of 4 triples. Iman Shumpert moved into the starting lineup with Smith out and has seen his 3-point shooting spike to 38 percent this season, well above his career norm. He was part of the barrage for the Cavs, hitting 6 of 7 first-half shots and going 2 of 3 from the 3-point arc for the game. The Cavs have nine players shooting 38 percent or better from the 3-point line, two of them – James Jones and DeAndre Liggins – not part of the rotation and a third, Kevin Love, out with injury. But they also got triples from two players not among that group in Richard Jefferson (4 of 7), a .329 shooter for the season, and Deron Williams (6 of 6 overall, 1 of 1 from the 3-point line). Kyrie Irving was a perfect 4 of 4 from the arc, including a third-quarter triple with the shot clock expiring as he stepped back and launched off of one foot in front of Stan Van Gundy at the Detroit bench.

3-POINTER – When Stan Van Gundy schemes his defense, he does it with trying to limit 3-point shots in mind, especially corner 3-point shots. The Pistons come up strong in most metrics that Van Gundy emphasizes – things like limiting layups, 3-pointers and free-throw attempts. Cleveland stresses those things primarily because of the playmaking genius of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Even in the dizzying first half, Cleveland was held below its pace for 3-point attempts with 14 and the Cavs finished with 30 attempts, under their average of 34 per game. They’re second in the league to Houston in attempts and were coming off a 43-count game against the Rockets in which the two combined to tie the NBA record for attempts (88), put enormous stress on a team’s ability to defend at every level. Van Gundy believes how well an opponent shoots from the 3-point line is largely random and the Pistons’ season underscores his belief. Over the first 27 games, the Pistons ranked No. 3 in 3-point field-goal defense at 33 percent; over their last 24 going into Cleveland, there were ranked No. 6 at 33.5 percent. But in those 15 intervening games – when the Pistons went 4-11 – they ranked 30th at a jaw-dropping 45 percent. The number of attempts they’ve given up over the three segments has ticked up: 23.9 to 25.3 to 26.4, reflecting a league-wide trend.

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