Caldwell-Pope sparks Pistons to second straight win
Auburn Hills — This wasn’t the same team that turned heads in Atlanta and caused owner Tom Gores to pump a fist and scream like a teenager in his Birmingham home.
A day after looking super sharp on the road against the Atlanta Hawks, the Pistons needed defense to squeeze out a 92-87 victory over the Utah Jazz Wednesday night at The Palace. That energy came from a variety of places, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (16 points, five rebounds) provided the biggest spark on the defensive end. He made key stops down the stretch as the Jazz (0-1) tried to steal a victory.
The Pistons are not winning because they look pretty on offense. They are winning because they are making pretty plays on the defensive end. They shot an unspectacular 40.5 percent from the floor and passed for just 16 assists but they are 2-0 for the first time in seven years.
“The offense is going to come. We are going to get better at that,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Right now we are focusing on the defense because that is what is winning this game for us.”
Caldwell-Pope made the biggest defensive plays after the Jazz fought from a seven-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 0:23 remaining. After Reggie Jackson hit a driving layup from the baseline to give the Pistons an 89-88 lead with 0:17 remaining Cal
dwell-Pope went to work.
He forced Alec Burks (18 points and six rebounds) into a hurried shot.
Caldwell-Pope hit two free throws to pad the lead to three. He then fought through a Derrick Favors screen, overplayed the ball but recovered to block a Rodney Hood 3-point shot.
Caldwell-Pope said it is important to not gamble down the stretch, but that is exactly what he did.
“Toward the end of a game like that we got to buckle down,” he said. “We can’t take chances. We got to stay within the principle.”
Later he said: “Yeah it was risky but Favors set a great screen and I had to fight my way through it.”
Caldwell-Pope made two recoveries. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy chastised him for not playing good defense early. The coach was not pleased with the Pistons' pick-and-roll defense and he let everybody know it. But he was singing Caldwell-Pope’s praises at the end.
“He’s got great quickness and reaction,” Van Gundy said. “And he’s got a desire to make the play at that point. That is where it starts. You have to have a will to get a stop and that is different from hoping a guy misses.”
The Pistons are not pretty but nobody was complaining in an exciting yet error-filled game.
Youthful mistakes got the Pistons in trouble. Clinging to an 86-85 lead in the final minute Van Gundy, admits he should have either called a timeout or call a set play. Instead Jackson dribbled in the lane, got caught up and tried to toss a feeble pass to Andre Drummond. The Jazz got control and Gordon Hayward hit a bank shot to put the Jazz up 87-86.
Van Gundy was asked if he was trying to call time out.
“The better question is should I have called time out as we were coming up the floor when we did not look organized,” Van Gundy said. “Or should I have called a set and get us into anything. Certainly I should have done one or the other.”
The Pistons finally got that timeout and Jackson drove the lane for a layup with 17 seconds left to put the Pistons up 88-87. He was aggressive on the play rather than probing.
"That's just miscommunication," Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. "I thought Rodney (Hood) was back in front and I was coming back on Andre to rebound and he (Jackson) stepped through. I should have been there."
The Pistons had five players in double figures. Jackson led the way with 19 points and four assists; Drummond added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Marcus Morris added 14 points and Stanley Johnson chipped in 11.
Much like in the Atlanta game the Pistons made their move in the third quarter. Some of their juice came from Drummond, who got the better of 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert could not keep pace and ran into foul trouble in the third quarter with his fourth foul. The Pistons took advantage as the backups, led by Steve Blake and Stanley Johnson, went on a roll. Johnson used superior strength and hustle to keep loose balls alive. He also drove the lane and converted his free throws, and the Pistons built a 73-64 lead with 10:56 remaining as Blake hit Johnson with a behind-the-back pass.
Johnson was fouled and hit two free throws.
“I think it is big that me and guys in the team — especially me — have effective minutes,” Johnson. “I think Blake, what he does is an everyday thing. He is great with his eyes. It is like he has eyes in the back of his head. If we all play hard our second group is pretty good. We can make shots.”
Jodie Meeks suffered an injury and it is not known how long he will be out. But he sustained a "Jones break" and will have X-rays Thursday to determine the extent of the injury.
It is the same injury that forced Kevin Durant to miss much of last season. He had multiple surgeries before returning this season.
Meeks missed eight weeks last season after a back injury sidelined him in the first exhibition game. Now he is out again.
"You feel bad for the guy," Van Gundy said. "He comes back in great shape. He came off a really good preseason game and gets a fracture tonight. He is sort of snake-bit right now but I feel sorry for him."