‘We’re moving in a great direction’ – Andre Drummond as the Pistons near the NBA quarter pole
Brian Babineau (NBAE/Getty)
BOSTON – Coaches come in all shapes, sizes and colors but carry a universal distrust of success. Coaches – coaches good enough to rise to the status of NBA head coach, at least – never look beyond today.
So Stan Van Gundy isn’t getting ahead of himself after Monday night’s rousing win at Boston elevated the Pistons to a 13-6 record. Asked by a Boston reporter before the 118-108 win if the season had unfolded at he envisioned, he said this:
“I don’t envision anything – ever. I’ve been in the league over 20 years and all your expectations – good or bad – always tend to sort of not be true. So I don’t even worry about it. You just try to get better and play the next game. That’s all.”
The Pistons went to a famous Boston seafood restaurant after Monday’s win and, chances are, somewhere between the shrimp cocktail and the entrée Van Gundy’s focus shifted to Tuesday morning’s scheduled practice at a college gym a few blocks from the team hotel. No doubt, he was already fretting about Wednesday’s date with Phoenix and a potential letdown.
It might have heartened him to know the way his players talked after the Boston win, already putting the result in context and moving past it.
“We’re moving in a great, great direction,” Andre Drummond said after a performance they hadn’t seen in Boston – at least 25 points, 20 rebounds and five assists – since a guy named Wilt Chamberlain did it a half-century ago. “We have a lot of guys that are willing to fight and willing to put the necessary time in to make sure this team is great. Sky’s the limit from here. We’ve just got to keep moving forward. We’ve got a game against Phoenix. We’ve got to try to get that win and move forward.”
Drummond’s night – 26 points, 22 boards, six assists, four steals – was capped by a marvelous fourth quarter. Make that a marvelous final 8:17. That’s when he re-entered and scored 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting plus 5 of 6 foul shooting to go with four rebounds and two very big steals. His maturity and his easy transition to an expanded offensive role are at the heart of the 13-6 start that has the Pistons sitting with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference to Boston’s 18-4.
“I think it shows how good we can be,” said Reggie Jackson, whose own strong outing – 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting, seven assists, one turnover – was overshadowed by Drummond’s dominance, Tobias Harris’ 31-point outburst and homecoming Avery Bradley’s defense on Kyrie Irving. “But you’ve got to chip away at it daily. Got to chip away at your flaws and continue to build your strengths. This is just another step on the blueprint showing us how good we can be, but we have to stay humble, continue to respect each and every opponent and take each day for what it is.”
“It’s another level,” Ish Smith said. “Each little section of the year, you’ve got to keep taking it up to another level. We’ve still got some things we’ve got to get better at. So, good start – I can’t knock that – but we’ve still got another level to reach and we have to continue to climb as the season progresses.”
Van Gundy will fret that the defense has fallen out of the top 10, though the Pistons have played eight of their 19 games against top-10 offenses. They’ve also forged a top-10 offense that seems built to last. Some of that is due to off-season additions, some of it is internal improvement and a lot of it is the way his players have taken to the new offense – with its heavy emphasis on ball and player movement – Van Gundy installed.
“We were just sharper tonight,” he said after the Boston win. “We cut harder. We cut better. Andre handled the ball well. I thought we did some good things in our movement. There’s still a ways to go, but I thought we did a really good job.”
Spreading the offense out – and reducing the onus to create offense from the shoulders of Jackson and Smith – has sparked an energy in the offense that was only sporadically evident in their past. Moving the ball becomes contagious. Players come to trust that if they pass it, chances are it’ll come back to them.
“We’ve been sharing the ball all year,” Van Gundy said. “This is a really, really unselfish team who play for each other. Not one time this year has anybody complained about not getting shots, not getting the ball, any of that. And part of it is the ball does always move.”
The Pistons already have a string of impressive wins – at Golden State, at Oklahoma City, at Boston. They’ve come back from double-digits deficits to win seven times, more than anyone else. They’ve been the NBA’s best fourth-quarter team with a plus 3.7-point differential, nearly twice the margin of the next best teams, Cleveland and Utah at 1.9. It’s only 19 games? Yeah, maybe, but that’s almost a quarter of an NBA season.
“I think we’re at a good position,” Harris said. “I’m not looking at standings wise; I’m looking at, as a team, where our heads are at. We’re at a good vibe as a team, knowing that we have a really good formula night after night in how to win games. First off, it starts with heart and never giving up and being able to fight and we have that. On top of that, just going out with a defensive mindset and being able to move the ball. We have a blueprint. We know what works for us. It’s going to be a matter of staying consistent and bringing that every single night.”
Bradley’s addition has given the Pistons a breathing example of the one-day-at-a-time mindset Van Gundy tries to infuse in his teams. Prodded by Boston media after the Pistons win to beat his chest and gloat, Bradley wouldn’t budge.
“Every game to me is important,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I come with the same intensity every single game.”
What might have made Stan Van Gundy smile over his shrimp cocktail, had he known what was being said in the locker room down the hall from where Bradley spent his first seven NBA seasons, is that pretty much every one of his teammates was saying the same thing.