Jennings beats buzzer, Spurs as Pistons' streak hits 6
San Antonio — The San Antonio Spurs often win because they are the NBA's best at not beating themselves, and letting you make the most minute mistake before pouncing on it.
Brandon Jennings turned the tables on the champs, doing the pouncing as he searched for an opening with milliseconds remaining after getting a loose ball, flipping up a winning lefty layup as the buzzer sounded — the finisher to an improbable win that continues their winning streak, a 105-104 stunner at the AT&T Center.
If you're counting, that's a six-game winning streak, after Jennings ignored the fact he had trouble finishing all night at the rim and was surprisingly brought in late in the fourth quarter when his backup D.J. Augustin had it rolling.
"DJ really did have it going," Jennings said of Augustin, who finished with 19 points. "He was making plays, getting into the lane. He played better than me tonight. If it was up to me, if he would've asked me I would've said let DJ stay in there."
But whether divine intervention took hold, or a team growing to believe in itself wasn't afraid of standing up to the formidable champs in their building led to it, they took every single punch the Spurs tossed and replied with one of their own.
With the Pistons trailing by one with eight seconds left, the Spurs mishandled their inbounds pass, leading to a scramble, and the ball found its way to Jennings' left hand after Andre Drummond engulfed the ball and kicked it to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who quickly found the Pistons' point guard.
Instead of pulling up for a triple, he kept attacking until he saw the light — and made the Spurs pay for their final mistake, though they didn't make too many aside from a few missed free throws.
"I was open but I wasn't gonna shoot the 3. I saw (Spurs forward Boris) Diaw and realized I had a good chance of going around him," Jennings said. "I was real upset with myself because I missed those two layups I felt I should've made. My shot wasn't falling, but I stayed with it."
Jennings missed 13 of his 18 shots, but showed no trepidation, just like Drummond against the legendary Tim Duncan, just like his team against the Spurs overall, especially in the fourth quarter.
"We're getting better and tonight proved it," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We showed really good resolve to stay within the game. You stay with it, sometimes you get a break. Let's face it. We got a very good break at the end. We got lucky.
"But you have to be down one to have that break happen. If you're down 17 and Cory Joseph fumbles the ball (expletive), what do you do? You lose by 15; it doesn't matter. Our resolve, down to the last few seconds, was huge."
Their resolve was tested early as they trailed by 17 in the first quarter, looking like reality would hit them smack in the face, as Spurs reserve Jeff Ayres carved them up with 16 points in 16 minutes. But, the Pistons rallied to play with playoff poise.
Van Gundy said it looked like the environment — the championship banners, the Hall of Famers on the other side, and the Spurs' early blitz — caused some intimidation.
"The first 18 minutes, we played intimidated," Van Gundy said "Their speed was too much, the pace of the game and we weren't doing what we were supposed to do."
Five triples in the fourth for the Spurs — once the Pistons' friend during this five-game spurt — became their enemy. Danny Green (13 points) and Marco Belinelli (12 points) seemed to find themselves launching from the perimeter, to the Pistons' chagrin.
Every time the Pistons caught up, a championship dagger would fly, but they wouldn't buckle, even though they couldn't match the Spurs from long range, making only three.
It wasn't the Spurs' "B" Team, either, as they've been known to play through the course of the season to save bodies and preserve the health of their veterans for the championship run. And Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in no mood to just let his team figure stuff out during the game, not willing to trust them on the fly, possibly a credit to his respect for the Pistons.
After an Augustin layup — which directly followed a timeout — Popovich immediately cut into point guard Patty Mills for apparently not defending the play correctly.
The Pistons put the Spurs on the ropes in the third quarter, taking an 82-72 lead.
They took the Spurs' identity for a period of time in making the comeback. Drummond played smartly, deftly and effectively, with follow-up dunks, blocked shots and thunderous rebounds over Duncan.
Duncan was so preoccupied with Drummond's activity that he mouthed off to the officials, earning a technical foul. Before you knew it, the Pistons had tied the game at 69, then went on a 13-3 run to take an 82-72 lead in the waning moments of the quarter.
It was probably the best defense they'd played against a quality opponent all season, holding the champs to just two field goals over the last 8:28 of the period, anchored by Drummond and even Greg Monroe.
Drummond finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds and a block, while Monroe had 17 with 11 rebounds and two steals. Caldwell-Pope had to defend the crafty Manu Ginobili, and scored 10 in 36 minutes.
Youth, energy and maybe a little willful ignorance led to the win, and presented a notion not even Van Gundy can deny now.
"We're getting better and tonight proved it."