It isn’t going to look like that every night – probably – but the way the Pistons played at Washington on Thursday is what Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey envisioned when they plotted to stock their roster with a bunch of lengthy, versatile, young, tough and energetic players who pour as much effort into one end of the court as the other.
Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose give them star power and scoring anchors with the starters and bench, but for the Pistons to hit their mark this season it’s going to consistently require what they put on display in the first half of Thursday’s 97-86 win at Washington.
The Pistons built a 23-point halftime lead, dominating the Wizards starters and their bench with the formula that Weaver’s roster-building strategy was designed to execute: smother the other guy on defense, then run it down his throat.
“That’s the way we want to play,” Casey said after the game, one in which the Pistons still led by 20 deep into the fourth quarter. “We have to have that as our identity. Our defense is ahead of our offense right now and that’s where we want it to be.”
How good were the Pistons in the first half? Their 23-point lead came with Blake Griffin taking nary a shot before halftime.
Delon Wright hit a pair of early threes and scored 10 of the first 17 points to get the Pistons off and running. Mason Plumlee was brilliant in the first half with eight points, two rebounds, three steals and three assists. Sekou Doumbouya and Josh Jackson – second-unit forwards who’ve put together back-to-back dazzling performances – scored 10 points apiece in the half, one in which the Pistons shot 53.5 percent, hit 8 of 14 triples and forced 15 Washington turnovers that resulted in 17 Pistons points.
“I think that’s what Troy was going for when he put this team together,” said Jerami Grant, who had his best showing with 15 points that included hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers and showing some verve off the dribble. “We have a lot of potential on the defensive end. I definitely think that’s where we’re going to hang our hats – defense and transition.”
Jackson finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in 24 strong minutes. Doumbouya didn’t score in the second half but didn’t play much as Casey used the fourth quarter to clear his bench, including the debut in a Pistons uniform from Dzanan Musa, the 29th pick in the 2018 draft who came from Brooklyn in the Bruce Brown trade.
Wright, an important trade acquisition for his versatility and the security blanket he affords 19-year-old rookie point guard Killian Hayes, finished with 13 points, making 3 of 4 triples, to go with three rebounds, two assists and three steals. He also fits ideally in the Weaver-Casey mold of a rangy player who is an asset at the defensive end.
“We can control our defense,” Wright said. “Helping each other, being a disruptive team. Offense is going to come as we get more comfortable with each other. If we continue to play how we played tonight, we’ll be good.”
The Pistons wrap up preseason with a rematch against the Wizards on Saturday night, then open the regular season at Minnesota on Wednesday.
With such a condensed training camp and preseason on the heels of a non-existent summer from a team-building standpoint, Casey is preaching the necessity of continuing to flex their muscles defensively to produce easy points until cohesion and familiarity – on a roster with only four holder players from 2019-20 – allow the offense to fall into step.
“Your defense has to carry you and be solid,” he said. “Offensively, I think that’s where we’re behind a little bit. I liked what I saw tonight, but there’s a lot we have to learn and draw from.”