Blake Griffin had 33 points and defended the potential winning shot to preserve the win. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Chicago — It’s only a two-game sample size, but the Pistons’ defense seems to be a work in progress, still figuring out how to stop drives to the basket.
In many ways, the offense still is a mystery too.
The only numbers that matter to them are 2-0.
Blake Griffin has been the biggest constant in those two wins — and he had a superlative performance, willing the Pistons to a 118-116 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night before a sellout crowd at United Center.
Griffin was the catalyst, notching 33 points — including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers — with 12 rebounds and five assists.
“He’s an All-Star. He’s a superstar in our eyes,” said Ish Smith, who had 15 points and five assists. “Any time we need a big shot, we need that from him every night and he’s going to give us that every night.”
Griffin and Bulls guard Zach LaVine (33 points) traded baskets all game but on the final possession, with Griffin switching to guard LaVine on the final possession with the Pistons nursing a two-point lead with 5.4 seconds left, LaVine lost control of the ball and the Pistons finally prevailed.
Griffin’s 3-pointer with 59.8 seconds left made it a 116-111 lead but the Bulls (0-2) rallied, with two free throws by Justin Holiday (19 points) and a 3-pointer from LaVine (33 points) with 24 seconds remaining to tie it at 116.
“(He’s) big time. He switched off on LaVine at the end and his mental toughness is like none I’ve seen: Gary Payton, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki — that type of mental toughness is what Blake Griffin has,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Smith (15 points) hit the go-ahead score with a drive to the basket with 5.4 seconds left and Reggie Jackson (18 points and six assists) had a late 3-pointer to keep the Pistons’ offense churning.
The Pistons shot 45 percent (18-of-40) on 3-pointers, including four by Jackson and three by Smith, but they got off to another slow start, hitting just 36 percent from the field through three quarters. A 13-of-23 (56 percent) effort in the fourth quarter — including 7-of-10 on 3-pointers — helped keep them in it.
Griffin had 33 points as the Pistons held on, 118-116, to improve to 2-0 on Saturday night. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
For the second straight game, Andre Drummond (10 points, 13 rebounds) was in foul trouble, fouling out with 1:19 left. But the Pistons were able to hold on defensively for the last couple possessions.
“We got a win — that’s the beautiful thing about it,” Casey said. “A win is a win on the road. That was one of the challenges going into this year, to make sure we execute on the road. In the game, we still have to do better; our decisions down the stretch have to get better.”
The Pistons made due at the free-throw line, going 17-of-22 in the first half but only had one more attempt in the second half, which kept them afloat while they got on track from the field.
The defense allowed 58 points in the paint and the Bulls shot 51 percent from the field, which still is a concern, with some breakdowns in dribble-penetration.
“Through the course of the game, there’s a lot of things we need to get better at. Down the stretch, to win games, you have to be so air-tight and we have the personnel to win games,” Griffin said. “Mistakes like that are going to come back to bite us. I told guys before the first game, in order to get to the playoffs, we have to win these types of games.
“Those types of mistakes are going to come back and bite us. We don’t want to be sitting at home after 82 games, like if we just beat that team.”