Beard: Pistons discover Griffin bump has limited returns
Atlanta — The sky isn’t falling. Not by a longshot.
It just feels like there’s a closer distance between the ground and the clouds.
The Pistons got a big boost, winning five straight following the trade for Blake Griffin and after their loss to Griffin’s former team, the Los Angeles Clippers, the wind seemed to go out of the sails.
The fans at Little Caesars Arena seemed to be awestruck that the Pistons could lose a game with Blake Griffin — an odd juxtaposition, considering the Pistons had lost five straight at home prior to the five consecutive wins in the six-game home stand.
“A lot of times after a loss, this is the mood — it’s a little bit negative — but I didn’t really expect to go 33-0,” Griffin said following Friday’s loss to the Clippers. “We just have to get to work and be better. It’s something that’s easily fixable.”
It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a quick fix, though.
Sunday’s loss at the Atlanta Hawks (18-39), who own the worst record in the Eastern Conference, sent some fans into a frenzy. It’s a tough spot, with Griffin — along with the newest Pistons, Jameer Nelson and James Ennis III — trying to get comfortable in the playing rotation and get into a good groove.
The Pistons are in a condensed schedule, with a limited number of practices between games, which has limited how quickly the new trio can jell. In Ennis’ case, he didn’t even get to Detroit on Friday; he was stuck in Memphis and just met the team for Sunday’s game in Atlanta.
He played well, with 14 points, but it’s going to take time for everything to mesh together. Maybe more losses, more tweaks and at some point, more practices.
“Sometimes we make it harder than we have to. Sometimes you just (have to) play,” said Ish Smith, who struggled with two points and seven assists, with five turnovers on Sunday. “It’s funny how we started out 5-0, just playing, not really overthinking it. But watch us now.
“Maybe guys are overthinking it — ‘should I go left, should I go right, should I make this pass or not?’ — instead of just flowing and playing.”
It seems to be finding some specific plays to run and get into a rhythm, especially around Griffin, as well as needing Reggie Jackson’s playmaking ability to get things back on track.
With only 27 games remaining, the time is running short, though. The Pistons (27-28) have just two games this week, including a rematch with the Hawks on Wednesday, to try to right the ship before the All-Star break.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other observations from the past week:
■ Getting the point: Coach Stan Van Gundy seemed undecided on the point guard position and some were surprised that he went after Nelson before the trade deadline. It was a low-risk move, to help find some stability, in case Jackson doesn’t get back quickly and as an insurance in case Smith gets injured in the interim. There were some positives in Nelson’s debut, running some good pick-and-roll plays with Andre Drummond. It’ll take more games to see if it’s a viable option moving forward, but with so many options in the backcourt, fans are antsy.
■ The other trades: Ennis looks to be a good defensive addition off the bench, complementing what Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson provide. He played Sunday having met his new teammates for the first time when the team arrived Saturday. It was a whirlwind to get to know the offense, but much like Griffin did last week, he’ll get more familiar. Bullock said they had some familiarity having played against each other in college.
■ Griffin’s fit: Griffin is giving the Pistons an option that defenses have to game-plan against and bring double-teams, but Van Gundy is looking for ways to get Griffin the ball more in the paint, instead of having him settle for 3-pointers, as he did with 10 attempts beyond the arc in Sunday’s loss. It’s a balance, as more of the offense is running through Griffin, but as the familiarity grows, they’ll find a better rhythm of who takes shots from which areas.
■ The hot hand: In his last eight games, Bullock is averaging 15.1 points and hitting 50 percent on 3-pointers, including 3-of-6 on Sunday. He’s at a robust 53 percent from the field and is getting more plays called for him in the offense. His versatility in finding open shots and other options within the framework of the offense makes him more valuable, especially in the starting lineup.