It took the Pistons 10 games to match what it took them 82 to accomplish last season: win three games on the second night of a back-to-back set.
They went 3-14 in such situations last season. There were a few handfuls of stats you can look at from their 37-win 2016-17 season and say “if only that were different …,” but 3-14 in back to backs has to be No. 1 on the list.
Well, they’re 3-0 this season with 11 more chances to beat last year’s total.
This win wasn’t nearly as dazzling as their last back-to-back win – coming back from a 14-point deficit at Golden State to beat the reigning NBA champions less than 24 hours removed from charging back from 13 down to beat the lone remaining unbeaten team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
But in its own way, the win over a 1-7 Sacramento Kings team that generated little fear was impressive if only because of that. Nobody wants to call them “trap games,” but, yeah, that’s kind of what it was.
“Wasn’t our best game, but we were able to grind it out, able to get some stops at the end to fuel our offense,” Tobias Harris said “We’re just looking to continue to build consistency. That’s the biggest thing.”
At 7-3, the Pistons are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season, having won 5 of 6 games since losing at home to Philadelphia on Oct. 23.
Ask around the locker room and you’ll hear words like “demeanor” and “defensive mindset” and “maturity” and “camaraderie.” Those are the things that go into wins on nights like this – a back to back, against a middling team you’re supposed to beat, a night after beating a division rival expected to fight for a top-four playoff seed.
“We lost our first couple of games against teams under .500,” said Anthony Tolliver, who took a one-year hiatus with Sacramento last season before returning to the Pistons. “It does feel good to take care of business. Just being able to take care of business against a team that doesn’t have a great record, it definitely feels good to get it done.”
Stan Van Gundy did a little more rotation jockeying, using rookie Luke Kennard in the second half in Langston Galloway’s spot. After the game, he announced Kennard and Henry Ellenson would play a Sunday matinee game for the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive. Kennard was on the floor late in the third quarter when the Pistons closed with a 14-5 run to take an 11-point lead and he had a spectacular touch pass that produced an Ish Smith layup.
When Sacramento threatened, Smith helped lift them to the finish line with his relentless motor. Smith had eight points, three rebounds and two assists in eight high-energy fourth-quarter minutes to help seal the win.
“Whew! His energy level was so high,” Stan Van Gundy said. “He didn’t play that many minutes; he was exhausted because the pace he was playing at. Had we been able to get some people to run with him, I think we could’ve done even more damage in transition.”
The most damage was done by Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Harris.
Drummond capped a dominant weekend – after a 24-point, 15-rebound outing in which he hit 14 of 16 free throws to spur the win over Milwaukee – with 16 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
“Playing all these back-to-back games, everybody is still a little banged up from the night before,” Drummond said. “But it’s a game that we needed and a game that we wanted. We went out there in that second half and played the way we’re supposed to and came out with a win.”
Bradley matched Friday night’s 24 points with another two dozen, hitting 3 of 6 triples. Harris added 20 points and five assists and knocked down 4 of 7 triples.
“Wasn’t our best game, but we were able to grind it out,” Harris said. “We’ve shown all year – small sample size – that we’re going to fight every single game and give our hardest.”