DETROIT – The Pistons have moved away from leaning so heavily on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, but it’s nice to know they can still go back to that formula in a pinch.
And the resolve the two players Stan Van Gundy identified as franchise cornerstones coming out of his first season as Pistons coach showed down the stretch of Friday’s 111-104 win over Atlanta bodes well for a season off to a rollicking start.
Jackson wasn’t having a particularly auspicious game Friday night when he re-entered the lineup for Ish Smith with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. He was sitting on nine points and six assists. He finished with 22 points, scoring eight in the final minute – including two huge triples on consecutive possessions 30 seconds apart.
Drummond, coming off a 0 of 7 foul-shooting night in his last game, went to the line with 1:28 left in a tie game and swished both. He finished with 16 points and his second consecutive 20-rebound performance while setting a career high with seven assists.
“Anything’s possible for this team when those guys are playing well,” Avery Bradley said after the Pistons improved to 9-3, their best start since the 2005-06 Goin’ to Work Pistons opened 10-2. “Reggie Jackson’s a very good player. Andre’s a very good player. When those guys are in pick and roll – I told Reggie tonight – they open the game up for everybody.”
The Pistons played six brilliant minutes of basketball – outscoring Atlanta 25-10 to close the first half – and that felt like it should have been enough against the 2-9 Hawks. But Atlanta cut the lead to seven after three quarters and tied it at 94 with just under four minutes to play – and again at 96, 98 and 100, the latter score coming after Drummond’s big free throws.
“I was going to have a game where I missed a bunch of free throws,” Drummond said. “The next day I went into the gym, figured out what I was doing wrong. I watched film on how I was shooting and I was doing certain things wrong that I wasn’t doing before and I went back to my routine and I knocked ’em down.”
Biggest ones of the season?
“Probably my whole career,” he said.
“That was huge, right?” Van Gundy said. “It was huge to make those two big ones down the stretch. Fantastic. And then a 20-rebound night. Yeah, pretty good night for him.”
Almost a really bad night for the Pistons, though, and Van Gundy was unusually dour after the win, disappointed that the thing he mused about before the game – handling success and dealing with adulation during their encouraging start – came to fruition.
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” he said. “Our focus was not good. It just wasn’t. But we got the win doing that and now what you hope is that your team will learn from that and not just blow it off. Enjoy the win tonight and come in ready to learn and get better tomorrow, which is what I would hope we could’ve done after the last game but that’s what we need to do going forward.”
It might have been an even more subdued Van Gundy if Jackson didn’t capture his 2015-16 magic – when he was the NBA’s leading fourth-quarter scorer – in the final minute. The first three he stroked, with the shot clock winding down, came with him having missed 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc prior to that possession.
“He had two big threes to save us,” Van Gundy said. “Two big threes. Huge. And then made free throws, too. So – saved us.”
The Pistons got a rare fourth-quarter stop on Atlanta’s ensuing possession – the Hawks had scored on six straight trips to rush back into the game and scored 35 points on 65 percent shooting in the quarter – and then put it away with a four-point trip. Bradley split a pair of free throws, but he wound up with the rebound on his miss to give the Pistons a fresh 24 seconds with a four-point lead. Jackson ended that possession with another triple.
Jackson’s first critical three came with Hawks rookie big man John Collins guarding him after getting caught in a switch. When he wisely backed off Jackson to prevent a drive-by, Jackson stepped into the shot with palpable confidence.
“He was backpedaling. He was back a little bit. Just hit a three,” Jackson said. “I figured, why not take another one?”
Indeed, why not?
“Reggie Jackson just made some big plays for our team tonight,” Bradley said. “Player of the game to me. He didn’t make some threes at the beginning of the game and for him to have the guts to be able to take those shots at the end of the game says a lot about him and says a lot about us as a team. It can be any guy’s night.”
“The fourth quarter comes around, you kind of just let Reggie do his thing,” Drummond said. “He brings his game to a whole new level when that fourth quarter comes around. When he has the ball, we have the utmost faith in him and he’s going to make the right decision more times than not.”
And then he said something that underscores the “pick your poison” dilemma teams face when Drummond and Jackson are at the top of their games.
“And I had good position anyway,” Drummond grinned, “so if he did miss it, I probably would’ve got the rebound.”