Auburn Hills — Easy nights have been hard to come by for the Pistons this season, but Friday night they took advantage of a favorable matchup to end a two-game losing streak with a 111-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets have shown marked signs of improvement in recent weeks, but they don’t possess size at the big positions to compete with the Pistons, which was evident from the start.
While the Pistons took care of business, they made things difficult on themselves, letting a 29-point third quarter lead dwindle to nine as they sleepwalked through the fourth quarter.
Andre Drummond had a career-high 22 rebounds to go with his 16 points and one blocked shot, while Brandon Jennings came up one assist short of a triple-double with 26 points (16 in the second half), 10 rebounds and nine assists — but also had eight of the team’s 22 turnovers.
Point guard Will Bynum did not play. Bynum had a public spat with coach Maurice Cheeks during Wednesday’s loss to the Orlando Magic.
The Pistons scored just four points in the first 7:35 of the fourth quarter as the Nets cut the lead to 13, after the Pistons had hovered around 60-percent shooting all evening (28 percent in the fourth, 51 percent overall).
“It’s tough to play smart when you’re up 30. It really is,” said Chauncey Billups, who returned to action after missing nearly a month.
“But once a team cuts it to 20, it gets your attention and you should kick into a more focused gear. But I’m happy we were up a lot, it’s been a common theme, not being able to finish.”
A win is a win, and considering the way the Pistons dominated the Nets for the better part of three quarters, and that they sorely needed some positive reinforcement a week before the All-Star break, they’ll take it.
“Fortunately we had a huge lead,” Cheeks said.
“You have to work your way through it. You have to have some games where you win them in the fourth quarter to get over that hump.”
Kyle Singler and Rodney Stuckey stopped the bleeding late, as Stuckey had two steals and a jumper to keep the Nets at bay. Singler scored 16 with five rebounds in his second start at shooting guard.
“It was great to see we didn’t totally crash,” Singler said.
“We fought through it. We just have to play better in the fourth quarter. Brandon helped us out a lot.”
Jennings final turnover looked to come off an attempt at the triple-double with 1:23 left, and the Nets charging, trailing by nine.
“(Do you) live with it?” queried Cheeks, finishing a question about Jennings’ turnovers. “We had some careless turnovers that both he and the team can learn from. We have to be careful with the ball.”
Drummond, Greg Monroe and Smith did to the Nets what they hoped to do to the rest of the NBA when the trio was formed last summer — overwhelm opponents with their size while protecting the rim.
The Nets shot just 36 percent and were outrebounded, 57-40, but hit 12 3-pointers.
Smith overpowered former teammate Joe Johnson, a guard by trade, while Monroe was defended by an aging Paul Pierce and Drummond dominated his with an indifferent Andray Blatche, who started in Garnett’s place.
“He was energetic, number one,” said Cheeks of Drummond. “Obviously getting 22 rebounds and running the floor, blocking a few more shots. I think he got a second wind.”
Josh Smith scored 23 with eight rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.
Jason Terry’s six 3-pointers made things interesting, as Nets coach Jason Kidd sat Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in the fourth quarter, but the reserves played with a fire that the Pistons were clearly missing by that point.
“It’s a little worrisome to make the same mistakes all the time,” Billups said. “We are young, we have some inexperience in this locker room but at some point, you go through something two or three times, you have to learn something from it.”
Much as the Pistons capitulated to the Magic in the second quarter of Wednesday’s blowout loss, the Nets did the same in Friday’s second quarter, allowing the Pistons to shoot 71 percent and giving up 37 points.
“We have a lot of potential, we just have to be consistent,” Billups said. “If we didn’t shoot it so great, it would’ve been a scary game.”