A wild 180 turn befitting Pistons season: slow start, torrid finish in rout of T-wolves

Ish Smith was a game changer off the bench as the Pistons came back from an early deficit to crush Minnesota and stay red hot.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The latest Pistons win – that’s 10 of 12, if you’re scoring at home – featured a U-turn every bit as gravity-defying as the 180-degree reversal of fortune they’ve executed on their season.

They spotted Minnesota a 16-point lead in the first quarter, spent the middle two quarters clawing back to even, then detonated in a wild and crazy few minutes to start the fourth quarter, when a two-point lead became an 11-point lead in 83 seconds and that 11-point lead went to 25 before the midway point of the quarter.

The Pistons got 70 points from their bench, racked up 29 assists against just five turnovers and wound up with a 24-2 edge in points off of turnovers. They’ve gone 6-1 since the All-Star break, 8-2 since the trade deadline when they raised eyebrows by trading away two rotation staples, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock.

“I feel like this stretch of games, you never know who it’s going to be,” Blake Griffin said after the 131-114 win over the Timberwolves. “It’s going to be somebody, but you never know who it’s going to be. (Andre Drummond) is pretty dependable, but we’ve had so many guys step up. Reggie’s (Jackson) played unbelievable. Luke’s (Kennard) played unbelievable. That’s tough for teams to game plan against when it’s a pretty balanced attack like it was.”

Drummond was dominant, especially in the third quarter when he scored 14 of his 31 points and reeled in six of his 15 rebounds. He was on the bench, though, when Kennard hit a 27-foot bomb to open the fourth quarter and then Langston Galloway tripled and made it a four-point play, all in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Kennard finished with 21 points and was plus-29 in his 29 minutes, while Ish Smith finished with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, hitting 8 of 10 shots, and was plus-28 in 27 minutes. And for as decisively as they swung the game to start the fourth quarter, their most important interlude perhaps came in the second quarter when they turned Minnesota’s snowballing momentum around.

“The second unit did a great job of coming in and changing the game,” Dwane Casey said. “They basically changed the game. Our starters were playing in mud. I told ’em they owed us one.”

“Our guys that came off the bench did an excellent job tonight,” Drummond said. “They picked up the slack when we started off slow. They came in and played excellent. Those guys, we need them to play like that each and every night.”

If there was any daylight for a Minnesota rally with the Timberwolves coming off of a Tuesday win over Oklahoma City, Drummond ended the suspense at the center of a dustup with Taj Gibson. Gibson was ejected for a flagrant-2 clothesline shot to Drummond’s neck with 10:07 to play.

The foul came as Smith’s bank shot fell and started the rarely witnessed seven-point possession: Smith’s basket, a Galloway free throw for a technical foul on Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders, Drummond’s free throw for the flagrant-2 and Thon Maker’s triple on the possession ensuing from the flagrant foul. When the smoke cleared, the Pistons had outscored Minnesota 16-2 in a span of 2:04 to start the fourth quarter.

Griffin – who scored just nine points, the first time he’s been held under double digits since Nov. 9 – was in Drummond’s ear, the voice of reason, as he stewed while officials reviewed Gibson’s actions.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him that mad,” Griffin said. “I told him the best thing you can do is go back out there and act like it didn’t even happen because something like that – I know Taj; Taj is a good dude; I don’t think it was a malicious thing; I think he just messed up – but if Dre goes out there and acts like it didn’t happen and knocks down the free throws and just keeps playing, that’s demoralizing. That’s all I was saying.”

“Just part of the game,” Drummond said. “My reaction speaks for itself. Tried to play through it. Can’t do anything about it.”

The win lifted the Pistons over .500 for the first time since beating Minnesota in overtime on Dec. 19 to go to 15-14. It was their eighth straight win over the Timberwolves and broke from their pattern of recent strong starts. Since Feb. 1, the Pistons came into the game with a first-quarter differential of plus-78, second to Houston.

As the points piled up in the fourth quarter and the lead expanded, the bench was a rollicking celebration and the crowd, as lethargic as the Pistons to start the game, put a charge into Little Caesars Arena.

“We were talking about that on the bench,” Griffin said of the differences in the home crowd as the Pistons have gotten their season back on track. “Hopefully we can keep that going. This is us laying a foundation and putting a product on the floor that people can be proud of, win, lose or draw.”

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