'That’s a lot of firepower' – Pistons find a powerful 5-man unit to roll past Mavs

Luke Kennard
Luke Kennard scored 19 points to lead seven Pistons in double figures as they rallied in the second half to beat Dallas.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – In an NBA where coaches are more focused on putting maximum stress on defenses than cobbling together lineups that fit a conventional mold, Dwane Casey unveiled the singular Pistons five-man unit designed to do just that late in the third quarter of the second preseason game.

With Dallas ahead 78-73 and 4:32 to play, Casey – seconds after sending Luke Kennard in for Bruce Brown – waved Derrick Rose in for Tony Snell.

That gave him his two primary bench scorers, Kennard and Rose, in a unit with the three core Pistons: Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Small-sample size caveats apply, but the 13-8 run they put together to tie the game and close the quarter was the hallelujah moment of the preseason. The Pistons scored on five of their seven possessions. On their only failed trips, Griffin was forced to retreat deep into the backcourt to retrieve a deflected ball and had to jack up a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock on one; on the other, the Pistons got two good looks that didn’t fall.

“We kind of stumbled upon – maybe not stumbled, but I think we found something in that lineup,” Griffin said. “There’s even more options than that. If we need a little more defense, you can put Tony Snell in for somebody. I like that lineup a lot, though.”

“Shoot, that’s a lot of firepower,” Langston Galloway said. “A lot of firepower. You’ve got five guys that can go at any point. It’s going to be exciting to see.”

Griffin, Drummond and Jackson took the fourth quarter off, passing the baton to the Rose and Kennard-led second unit. With Thon Maker, Markieff Morris and Galloway completing it, the bench opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run. The Pistons scored 51 points in the last 16:32 to score the 124-117 win, evening their preseason record at 1-1.

The Rose-Kennard duo combined with Griffin, Drummond and Jackson is an early favorite to be the closing unit for Dwane Casey in games where the Pistons need some scoring punch in the final five minutes.

“Derrick is such a dynamic guy getting to where he wants to go. He and Luke both are good pick-and-roll players,” Casey said. “We also had Reggie in there. We had three pick-and-roll players in the game. That gives you a different look. Any time you have that type of flexibility, that helps.”

Kennard and Rose each scored 11 second-half points, finishing with 19 and 18, to lead seven Pistons in double figures. Griffin added 17 points and five rebounds, Drummond 13 and nine. The Pistons racked up 31 assists with nine players recording at least two.

“Second half, I thought we picked it up and played the right way,” Casey said.

Rose and Kennard combined for 17 points and four assists in the fourth quarter, each taking turns slicing up Dallas’ defense. Morris added nine fourth-quarter points.

Kennard’s play so far reflects the fondest wishes of Pistons staffers that he would parlay the momentum he gathered from the second half of last season into his third NBA season. His growth – combined with Rose’s addition and continued renaissance from the travails caused by his multiple leg injuries – promises to make the potential closing unit a lethal one.

“I think it can have a lot of potential,” Kennard said after scoring his 19 points on just eight shots, making six, including 5 of 6 from the 3-point arc. “With the depth we have, we can have different lineups on the floor to create problems for defense. With that group, we made a little run. It was good to see. We have some playmakers, some shot makers. It was good to get a little confidence, get a little rhythm and some momentum going.”

How good can that unit become?

“Who knows? Right now, you can put an X on it,” Rose said. “You have Reg, you have me, you’ve got Luke. Luke still doesn’t know how good he is. I’ve just got to keep feeding him and building his confidence. He already has that, but that’s what I’m here for – to try to elevate guys. Reg is a knock-down shooter, can get in the paint, so my job is just to create, rebound and try to get guys the ball when they need it.”

Rose attacked in transition, doing all of his damage at the rim and from mid-range. He hit 8 of 12 shots, missing his only 3-pointer.

“When Derrick got tired, pick and roll, we went to Luke,” Casey said. “Any time you have multiple ballhandlers and pick-and-roll players, the way the game is played today, it’s huge. At the same time, they can shoot it. It really gives you a different dimension.”

For a team that was too often one dimensional last season – Blake Griffin, early and often – the Pistons can throw a variety of looks at teams this time around. Maybe the most powerful look is the one Dwane Casey unveiled late in the third quarter of their second preseason game.

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