Caldwell-Pope’s defensive effort is a game-changer

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — With the game on the line, Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope found himself in a familiar position on defense.

Just like in Wednesday night’s win over the Utah Jazz, when Caldwell-Pope, one of the Pistons’ best on-ball defenders, was isolated with the game on the line, one-on-one. Caldwell-Pope blocked Rodney Hood’s potential tying 3-pointer, preserving the Pistons victory.

On Friday night, the stakes were higher, with former MVP Derrick Rose handling the ball with the score tied at 83 in the final seconds of regulation. Rose faked and pulled up for a 17-footer, which was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.

The Pistons scored the first seven points and went on to a 98-94 victory, to improve to 3-0.

“I took a peep at the clock. I was just looking at his number and staying in front of him,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I knew he was going to take a jumper when he took the step back and that allowed me to recover and it was a great play.”

Defense is turning into the hallmark of this Pistons team, which has several new pieces and a new shutdown mantra, holding on for a 3-0 start for the first time since 2008-09.

While Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.5 points in the first two games, he struggled from the field on Friday, shooting 2-of-12 and finishing with just six points.

If he had to choose between the defensive stops or the offensive stats, Caldwell-Pope said the choice would be easy: “The back-to-back stops.”

“Defense wins games so I’m going to continue to defend how I defend,” he said. “We got the stop to go into overtime and we finished it out. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get a win.”

His defensive contribution proved most valuable, sending the game to an extra period before Marcus Morris (26 points), Reggie Jackson (22 points) and Andre Drummond (20 points, 20 rebounds) were able to help put it away.

Rose pointed to the team defensive effort as the key to taking the options away and forcing him into the longer jumper.

“(Drummond) took away my drive,” Rose said. “I should have pump faked, but it’s a learning experience.

“(Caldwell-Pope) was sticking me too…but it takes going through it to really learn for next time.”

Morris credited Drummond and Caldwell-Pope, who have spearheaded the defense and been the backbones of the lockdowns.

“They played really hard and Drummond is a force back there. Any time you get beat, you know you have (Drummond) back there waiting,” Morris said. “We just have to give a lot of credit to them and Coach.”

Though the offense hasn’t quite caught up to the defensive performances yet, Caldwell-Pope is confident that it’s just a matter of time. Until then, they’ll keep the defensive intensity up — and look to keep winning.

“Just continue to do what we’ve been doing to get us 3-0, playing hard on the defensive end,” he said. “Offense is going to come; it’s going to get better as we go. We have to stay with the defense.”