DETROIT – Thirteen games into the season, it tells you something about how it’s going for the Pistons that they can already debate their most satisfying win.
It’s tough to beat a win at Golden State after spotting the defending champions a 14-point second-half lead – especially when it came less than 24 hours after a 13-point comeback to beat the Clippers – but Sunday’s 112-103 win over Miami is right up there.
And considering the quality of play on both sides, maybe atop the list.
“Other than the Warrior win, this is our best win, I thought,” Stan Van Gundy said. “They played so well. That was a hell of a basketball game.”
Miami hit 11 of 23 from the 3-point line in just the first half and the Heat could have been on their way to a blowout win if the Pistons hadn’t absorbed all those haymakers with such resilience. But it looked like the dam was about to burst five minutes into the third quarter when the Heat took an 11-point lead.
What happened in the next 39 seconds made possible another remarkable comeback. Avery Bradley’s two triples were sandwiched around a Justise Winslow dunk attempt that rattled off the back rim and fueled a Pistons fast break.
“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Van Gundy said. “We had nothing to do with Winslow missing the dunk. He missed it and we went the other way. It was tremendous.”
Thus began a 41-19 run over the equivalent of a quarter that saw the Pistons go from down 11 to up 11.
“For him to hit the three and then come down and take another one, that was definitely gutsy,” Reggie Jackson said of his backcourt partner, who finished with 24 points. “I loved his confidence. He was feeling it. I was very confident when that shot went up. I was pretty much ready to walk to the bench because I know that’s one of those runs that immediately a timeout’s coming.”
After Miami’s 11 first-half threes on 23 launches, the Pistons limited the Heat to 14 tries – and only two makes – in the second half. And it was appropriate that it was Bradley’s two triples that sparked the turnaround. The Pistons, in fact, wound up making one more triple (14) than the Heat, hitting half their attempts. Tobias Harris, now shooting .506 from the 3-point line, was 5 of 8. Anthony Tolliver was 3 of 3 and both Bradley and rookie Luke Kennard – whose breakout game, with nine fourth-quarter points and 14 overall, was a major subplot – had two apiece.
“He’s not afraid to go out there and just play,” Tolliver said. “Some guys kind of shy away from the moment and he’s not one of those guys. He just stepped up and hit some big shots, stepped up and made some huge defensive plays.”
To be sure, Van Gundy – who wondered aloud on draft night if Kennard had the stuff to defend – was more delighted by what Kennard did at that end.
So the six tough baskets Kennard made, including a few that underscored his craftiness and understanding of angles, will be the headline but it’s what he showed on defense that will unlock a more permanent spot in the rotation for him.
“That’s not even what we were – and I think his teammates will tell you the same thing – really happy with,” Van Gundy said. “He had the great contest at the rim where he went up and got vertical. He came as the low man on a rotation on (Hassan) Whiteside. He had five defensive rebounds. He was in the battle tonight. I was really, really happy. I was happy with everybody, but really, really proud of him.”
The perfect home stand was the first such sweep of five games at home since January-February 2008. It was the sixth straight home win, pushing their record at Little Caesars Arena to 7-1 and the eighth in their last nine games overall.
“When we got back from the West Coast road trip, that was a big emphasis,” Harris said. “We all said, we’re home five games; let’s rally all five wins and go five and oh. Just the fight that we had and the confidence to come in every single night ready to play – expect to win every game.”
Their reward is to play nine of their next 11 games on the road, starting with a three-game trip through the Midwest to Milwaukee, Indiana and Minnesota.
“The next three games on the road against teams you beat at home,” Van Gundy said. “So you know they want back at you. The challenges just keep mounting. You put wins in the bank because you know there are going to be tough stretches in the season. So you put wins in the bank and our guys on this home stand did a hell of a job.”
Only Boston, at 12-2, has a better record than the Pistons’ 10-3, a mark equaled by Golden State and Houston. That’s pretty good company they’re keeping.
“The energy is great in here. The locker room is fantastic,” said Andre Drummond, who did his part with 17 rebounds. “We deal with adversity well and we deal with success well, too. We don’t get too big-headed when we win games and we don’t get too down on ourselves when we lose.”
Well, to be fair, they haven’t had much of a test with the latter half of that equation – and that’s OK with them.