‘That was a gut check’ – no style points, but Pistons get a win they needed without Griffin, Jackson
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – It won’t be the kind of win that gets recalled at season’s end for its artistic merit, but perhaps for its import. While Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson rehab injuries, the 96-94 black-and-blue bruise of a win the Pistons registered over Indiana is precisely the type of win the Pistons have to register.
“The earlier ones are always big, no matter what. But especially with two big guys out like that,” Luke Kennard said of Monday’s win. “We really need to lock in and get mentally prepared and win games that we need to win and are supposed to win.”
Kennard and Derrick Rose have been the two players the Pistons have relied upon to make plays and generate offense while Griffin and Jackson are idled – Griffin with knee and hamstring soreness, Jackson with lower-back tightness.
Through three games, they’d combined to average 45 points a game while shooting with great efficiency. Against Indiana they combined to score less than Rose’s 25.3 average, just 24 points.
But they scored the game’s final six points after Indiana took a 94-90 lead on T.J. Warren’s 3-pointer with 1:42 to play.
Kennard put the comeback win in play by answering Warren’s triple 17 seconds later from in front of Indiana’s bench. It hit the front rim, bounced a few feet in the air and fell, causing despaired reactions up and down the Pacers sideline.
Kennard was 2 of 8 after missing an open 20-footer with eight minutes left and the Pistons clinging to a five-point lead, but then he made his last three shots – a corner three set up by Rose, a reverse layup and the caromed triple. So many of his shots looked good out of his hand only to bounce off, so he felt he was due a break.
“Kind of got lucky,” he grinned. “Basketball gods helped me out a little bit on that one. Got some help there, for sure.”
But the Pacers still had the lead and the basketball. Only one of those things was still true after Warren traveled to end a possession of suffocating Pistons defense. Then Rose – 3 of 15 from the field in a frustration-filled night to that point – tore through Indiana’s defense to convert a tough left-handed layup with 28 seconds to go.
“Derrick had probably one of his worst games, but he had the gumption and the experience to finish it with the game-winning shot,” Dwane Casey said. “To have the confidence to keep coming, keep playing.”
“We trust Derrick,” Kennard said. “He’s become one of our leaders. Down the stretch, he’s been in situations like that before and he knows how to take over a game. We trust him in any situation and we believe he’ll do what it takes to win.”
With Rose and Kennard struggling, the Pistons had to lean on Andre Drummond, who finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds, and got scoring from unexpected sources.
Bruce Brown, who came off of the bench as Casey started Kennard as a way to replace some of the offense the first unit is missing without Griffin and Jackson, hit all three of his 3-point shots in scoring 11 points.
“It was fine with me,” Brown said of coming off the bench. “I know my role on this team. I know what I need to do. I know what I need to bring. Whatever coach needs me to do, the team needs me to do, I’m ready.”
The other boost came from Christian Wood, who only last Monday learned he had made the 15-man roster. He led the Pistons with 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting – he also made all three of his 3-point shots – and added 12 rebounds plus a spectacular block of Malcolm Brogdon’s layup try, pinning it to the backboard and then saving it from going out of bounds.
“Christian does a good job when he has a good matchup against a guy like Myles Turner, T.J. Leaf, those kind of long, big fours,” Casey said. “He did a good job. He shot the ball with confidence.”
It was all just enough to eke out a win over the 0-3 Pacers, who underwent significant off-season changes – four starters are gone – but came into the season fully expecting another playoff run. The Pistons play them four times in the season’s first 10 games and will complete the four-game season series in the first 23, so winning those games while Indiana figures out all its moving parts could go a long way toward putting the Pistons in favorable position for Griffin and Jackson’s return.
“Nate’s (McMillan, Indiana coach) teams are going to be competitive, physical, and I that’s one thing I thought we did. Defensively, we met the challenge,” Casey said. “That was a gut check.”