OAKLAND – Seven games into the NBA season, the award for the most impressive weekend is already clinched. It belongs to the Pistons. In games that tipped off 22 hours apart on opposite ends of California’s coast, the Pistons knocked off the NBA’s last remaining undefeated team and the reigning champions. And they did it by coming back from 13 down against the Los Angeles Clippers and 14 down against the Golden State Warriors.
Even on an NFL Sunday with the World Series raging, that’s the kind of thing that is apt to catch people’s attention.
But what does it mean, the 95-87 win over the Clippers in which the Pistons closed on a 38-17 rush and the 115-107 win over Golden State in which the Pistons went on a 47-20 run over a 13-minute span that began with about eight minutes left in the third quarter?
“It means a lot,” Tobias Harris said. “Two games versus two very good teams. The morale in the locker room is great right now. We’re embracing each other. We’re enjoying it. We’re having fun and that’s the biggest thing. We’re having fun as a team in here.”
Even Stan Van Gundy had to crack a smile, belying his cautionary words about sample size and the calendar and the long road ahead.
“It’s great and I’m not downplaying it. These two wins are great. Really proud of ’em,” he said. “But it truly is two of 82. We’re seven games into an 82-game season, 75 to go. So you can be really happy and should be tonight. These guys should be very, very happy tonight. And then tomorrow you’ve got to start getting yourself ready to play again.”
It was a night, and a weekend, that makes you consider their possibilities, though. It’s taken the Pistons less than two weeks to answer some of the resounding questions that hovered over them from last season, when they struggled mightily on the road and were impotent (3-14) in back to backs.
The Sunday win – with a 5:30 p.m. local tipoff after a 7:30 game in Los Angeles the previous night – makes the Pistons 3-1 on the road with a three-game winning streak. In each of those three games, they’ve come back from huge deficits – 21 at New York before the 13- and 14-point comebacks to start their three-game trek through California. They’re 2-0 in back to backs.
“We’re just fighting for 48 minutes, whether we’re up, whether we’re down,” said Reggie Jackson, who scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half to keep the Pistons in it. “We want to come out and do our best to put out a complete game for 48 minutes. I think this team has just been tremendously focused and, so far, we’ve had a never-say-die mentality.”
To flesh out the pinch-me nature of an epic win, the Pistons won on a night that Golden State’s three prolific scorers – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson – all had it cooking. They finished 33 of 50 for a combined 84 points and did it despite better than commendable defense from Avery Bradley on Curry and Stanley Johnson on Durant.
“The most pleasing thing about the win is they didn’t have a bad night. Their three guys shot the lights out,” Van Gundy said. “They had a great shooting night and we were still able to get the win.”
The Pistons got great shooting from their guards – Jackson (8 of 12), Bradley (8 of 13, 5 of 7 from three) and Ish Smith (6 of 7) combined for 61 points – but not from two staples, Andre Drummond (4 of 17) and Harris (6 of 18). But Drummond contributed 18 boards, five assists and five steals and Harris hit two big shots. A runner that turned into an and-one after a Bradley triple nearly halved the 14-point deficit to kick start the rally, but an even bigger shot was to come.
After Golden State fell 13 down, a Durant triple fueled an 11-2 run to pull the Warriors within two with nearly four minutes still to go. An Andre Iguodala dunk with 2:12 left made it a three-point game. After a scoreless trip for each team the Pistons were groping for a clean look deep in the shot clock when Harris found himself isolated on Durant a healthy step beyond the 3-point arc at its top. His shot cut cleanly through the net to make it a six-point game with 1:27 to play.
“Huuuge,” Van Gundy called it. “Huuuge. He shot that thing to the moon.”
On a night that started dreadfully for Harris – he was 2 of 12 at halftime – he shot it without hesitation.
“One thing my dad always taught me is never stop shooting. No matter what type of night, you’ve got to trust in your shot and at that point I just did that,” Harris said. “I know KD’s a tall, long player, so I had to get it high up over him and it was able to fall. That was a big shot for us.”
If it needed an icer, Bradley provided it with a steal and layup, one of 26 turnovers a relentless Pistons defense forced on an elite offensive team, to make it an eight-point game with 52 seconds to play.
Bradley and Johnson, the perimeter anchors of Van Gundy’s defense, added three steals each to the five Drummond registered.
“I don’t think anybody in the locker room thinks that we’re there yet,” said Johnson, who played a team-high 41 minutes and scored 15 points, knocking down 3 of 5 from the 3-point arc. “Such a short sample size, but it’s always good to see positive things and going in a good direction. To see the things we’re doing have good results, it makes us push harder to keep doing the things we’re doing and keep listening to Coach and keep practicing hard and giving the effort that we’re giving.”
All that stuff happens, better days are indeed in store for the Pistons. But it might be a while before they have a better weekend.