Miami — The Pistons got away with one.
With all their recent struggles, a win is a win, but a loss would have been more than a loss. In a season rife with several bad defeats already, this one would have hurt more than all the others combined.
The Miami Heat only had nine players available and were without most of their starting lineup and key players: Hassan Whiteside (eye), Goran Dragic (back) and Justise Winslow (shoulder), in addition to inactives Chris Bosh and Dion Waiters.
The shorthanded Heat sizzled in the first half and the Pistons were in an early hole but found their way out in the fourth quarter, regaining the lead and holding on for a 107-98 on Sunday night at American Airlines Arena.
The victory ends the two-game skid for the Pistons (16-20) and averted another addition to the collection of losses against the dregs of the East, including the Sixers, Nets and Magic.
The Heat (10-25) replacements made an early push for the upset, hitting their first eight field goals and racing to a 20-9 lead. They shot 65 percent from the field, including 67 percent on 3-pointers, taking a 66-58 lead at halftime.
The hot shooting just wasn’t sustainable through the final 24 minutes.
Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy on their 107 to 98 vicotory over the Miami Heat, January 01, 2016. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
“I don’t know — it looked like they could (sustain it),” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We needed to get them slowed down a little, which we did in the second half. They shot the ball great, 10-of-15 (on 3-pointers) in the first half.
“It was good to be able to overcome that, that we did enough offensively to stay in the game.”
Reggie Jackson had a season-high 27 points, Andre Drummond added 25 points and 18 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Caldwell-Pope spearheaded the go-ahead rally, scoring 13 of the Pistons’ 15 points during a critical stretch near the end of the third quarter. The Heat had pushed their lead to 73-64 on a floater by Wayne Ellington (18 points), which capped a 7-2 spurt.
But the Pistons answered with an 11-0 run, with a pair of hook shots by Drummond, a jumper by Jackson and a 3-pointer and leaning jumper by Caldwell-Pope, giving the Pistons their first lead, 75-73, with 4:01 left in the quarter.
The Pistons didn’t wither in the third quarter, starting with a defensive stop on a 24-second violation and then chipping away at the lead. Van Gundy said the halftime adjustments were critical — and just getting some stops to be able to allow the offense to catch up.
“That’s all we talked about when we were coming out of our locker room and especially when we were coming out of the huddle right before the second half started,” Jackson said. “We’ve been a team that’s been calling timeouts early in the third, so we wanted to go out and try to put that pressure on somebody else and force them to call a timeout.”
Ellington and Tyler Johnson (11 points) followed with back-to-back 3-pointers but Caldwell-Pope hit another jumper and followed with a 3-pointer for a one-point lead. After a pair of free throws by Udonis Haslem, Caldwell-Pope hit another 3-pointer and Tobias Harris (17 points) ended the quarter with a 3-pointer with 20.5 seconds left, staking the Pistons to an 85-81 lead.
The Heat made their last field goal at 3:14 of the third quarter and didn’t hit another until Derrick Williams connected on a basket with 6:12 in the fourth quarter. The Pistons started the fourth with a jumper and drive by Marcus Morris (11 points) and a putback hook by Drummond, pushing the lead to 91-81.
The Pistons’ lead didn’t get lower than seven the rest of the way, as they gained control after trailing by 14.
“(We thought that) we were in for a fight and they made pretty much everything they shot in the first quarter,” Caldwell-Pope said. “And in the fourth quarter, by taking the lead; it was a tough fight for three quarters.”
James Johnson (20 points) hit a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left, for a 37-33 lead after the first quarter and a 10-0 spurt early in the second pushed the lead to 14. The Pistons stayed close behind Jackson and Harris, who combined to score all 15 Pistons points during a five-minute stretch.
The Heat led, 66-58, at halftime and the Pistons surged ahead for good in the third.
“They played better. To be fair, we probably ran out of gas a little bit. Not as an excuse — we played guys big minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were getting some of the same looks, but we weren’t able to knock those down that we were in the first half.”