Auburn Hills — Having been knocked down in a physical game that was trending toward football territory, Brandon Jennings thrust all of his 175-pound frame into Pacers guard C.J. Watson, who was dribbling upcourt.
An obvious foul in the third quarter when the Pistons were trailing by nine, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy made a vocal declaration to Jennings that could be heard all the way through Banker's Life Fieldhouse.
"I said flat out, 'Do I need to take you out?' " Van Gundy said to his hot, emotionally charged guard.
Jennings was more than a little perturbed, which wasn't helped by the snickering and laughing by the Indiana Pacers sideline, as many sensed Jennings was on the verge of some kind of breakdown.
"I just wanted to make sure he was OK," Van Gundy said. "Sometimes he can get a little emotional at times. Sometimes it's really good. I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't getting out of control."
What ensued was another Jennings third-quarter breakthrough, as he began his onslaught on Watson and the rest of the Pacers with a barrage of 3-pointers, including a four-point play where Watson hit him on the arm — a 19-point quarter that brought the Pistons back, leading to their last-second victory on Andre Drummond's tip-in with 0.3 seconds left.
After his last triple of the quarter, Jennings shot a few words to the players on the Pacers bench — an eerily quiet one that time around.
"He was just fired up. Obviously I loved the way he was playing," Van Gundy said. "He went after it. We've had other times where that wasn't the case."
Jennings wouldn't say it, but any player as hot as Jennings has been would want a little longer leash from his coach. There was no way Van Gundy could know Jennings was on the way to another explosion, a 37-point night that thrust him into the Player of the Week conversation — but Jennings knew he had to keep his emotions from overflowing.
"I think I'm more (mature) now to realize it's not about trying to show up a guy or outdo him," Jennings said. "It's about getting your team going. When I was younger, yeah I would be, 'alright, he's trying to go at me so I gotta get him now.' Now it's about getting the win."
That night, getting the win and being ultra-aggressive went hand-in-hand — which started out being the case Saturday, as Jennings hit his first three shots to get the Pistons to a 15-4 start against the 76ers.
"Even if I'm aggressive and guys are open, I still gotta pass," Jennings said. "I still gotta play the game of basketball."
Due to the threat of Jennings challenging the defense, it allowed Kyle Singler to slide baseline as Jennings found him with a nifty pass for a layup — getting Singler going for a 20-point outing.
"I know how to balance it now. I know I'll have the ball in my hands a lot, I don't have to go for it, all in one bunch."
That first quarter emptied Jennings' energy tank, as he confessed to Van Gundy that he was tired — and knowing that, didn't try to force the action Saturday, content with setting up his teammates and using the energy he had remaining on defending 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams.
"I've never been this consistent. I might've had 4-5 games in a row but since December…" he said. "I've been playing with a free mind. I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just playing."
Pistons at Hawks
Tipoff: 2:30 p.m. Monday, Philips Arena, Atlanta
Outlook: Since their 15-6 start, the Hawks have gone 26-2, earning the best record in the East. ... The Pistons are one game out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.