Wire-to-wire win as Pistons tie franchise record with 17 triples to beat Magic
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Stan Van Gundy’s reaction to the 114-110 win over Orlando? “Bah humbug.”
Well, not literally. But that was the essence of his analysis of a win that should’ve been as comfortable as any the Pistons have had among their 17 victories over the season’s first 30 games.
They led Orlando by 24 with 7:09 to play when Anthony Tolliver’s triple tied the franchise record for 3-pointers in a game with 17. Less than five minutes later, the lead was five. Orlando’s 19-0 run almost cost the Pistons a win and definitely cost Van Gundy a serene night.
“I’m not happy,” he said. “I understand the sentiment, ‘It’s all about winning and you got the win.’ That’s not what it’s all about. It’s about what you bring to the game. How you play, the effort you bring, the unselfishness you bring and then the results take care of themselves. I’ve had games this year where I was proud of our guys in games they lost. We played a very good first half. Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver played very well. And we didn’t try at all in the second half. I’m not happy with that at all.”
There were warning signs before that dizzying, disorienting five-minute stretch late. The Pistons led 60-43 at halftime, thanks to Orlando’s 10 first-half turnovers and missing a handful of layups, but the Magic scored 21 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter.
The Pistons still never let the lead get below 11, though, because of their torrid 3-point shooting.
Nobody was better than Bullock and Tolliver, as Van Gundy noted. Bullock, making his third straight start since Van Gundy moved Stanley Johnson to the bench, established a season high in points for the third straight game. His 20 points, in fact, were a career high as he hit 8 of 10 shots and 4 of 6 triples.
Bullock’s integration has had the desired effect on Van Gundy’s offense, which was No. 7 in the NBA before crashing during the seven-game losing streak, a stretch in which they were the league’s worst offense with the worst shooting percentage. Bullock’s cutting and ball movement have been a tonic.
“It’s the way I played when I was in college,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be playing, the Van Gundy way of playing – cutting and moving without the ball. I’m the type of player that doesn’t need the ball to get things done. It’s working out for me with the offense we’ve been running this year.”
Tolliver hit 5 of 7 triples and scored a season-high 17 points. Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson each hit three triples. But the Pistons were 16 of 26 from the arc over the first three quarters and when their rate slowed to a trickle in the fourth quarter – Tolliver’s three was their only make in eight tries – their game unraveled. Orlando, meanwhile, actually finished a tick better than the Pistons from the arc, 17 of 33 to 17 of 34.
And just as the Pistons started with seven first-quarter triples, Orlando closed with seven fourth-quarter threes. It was a breakout game for Mario Hezonja, who went two spots ahead of Stanley Johnson in the 2016 lottery. Hezonja, averaging 12 minutes and 3.7 points, put up 28 points – a career high by 11 points – and hit 8 of 12 from three, double his previous career best in makes from the arc.
“In this league, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against,” Tolliver said. “I don’t feel like I’m any less than anybody else. Given the opportunity, any of these guys can shine. You see Hezonja – whatever his name is, Mario – that guy was amazing. Shot the lights out. At the end of the day, given the opportunity, everybody in this league can play.”
Hezonja’s opportunity arose because Orlando was without three key players – leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier plus sniper Terrence Ross. Combine that with Orlando’s 11-19 record coming into the game and a 24-point lead, it’s probably the expectation that the Pistons would exhale with seven minutes to play. Give Orlando credit for charging through the door their hosts cracked, but Van Gundy won’t see it that way.
He saw signs of trouble even before that – when Orlando came out and hit 9 of 10 shots to start the third quarter or when Luke Kennard got yanked exactly one minute into the game for mental lapses.
“Luke screwed up twice in the first two plays of the game, mental mistakes,” Van Gundy said. “I just wasn’t going to let it go. Screwed up a defensive assignment at one end and screwed up the play at the other end. It was enough.”
At least it was a win.