Pistons cold but winning with defense, rebounding

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Andre Drummond

Auburn Hills – Forward Anthony Tolliver, 30, is a grizzled veteran on a young Pistons team. He's bounced around the NBA, D-League and Europe -- a 15-stop tour of duty since going undrafted out of Creighton in 2007.

So he knows what it's like to scuffle and fight and grind every day. That is why he's a valuable resource for the younger Pistons players. He has a wealth of knowledge and knows how to get through the dog days of a season, whether it's in the NBA or Germany.

"You've got to grind out these games," Tolliver said. "These are the games that separate you from everybody else."

The Pistons became the first 3-0 team in the NBA with Friday's tough 98-94 overtime win over the Bulls at The Palace. That followed a grind-it-out win over the Jazz.

Busting chops and punching faces is the only way the Pistons can play until their shooting improves. In three games they've shot 38.5 percent, 40.5 percent and 37.5 percent. In years past these were three surefire Pistons losses.

But many of the teachings and preachings of coach Stan Van Gundy and Tolliver have taken hold.

"I've heard coaches say 10 games a year you are going to win because you just shot it well," Tolliver said. "Ten games you are probably going to lose because you shot it so poorly. The other games, if you play great defense and rebound, you are probably going win a majority of those games. I think it's good for our young team to see that we barely shot 40 percent and we got wins against those teams. It shows how important defense and rebounding is."

Those two things are also a tough sell, especially for a young team. The youngsters like to run and gun and feel the air run through their hair as they run and dunk and shimmy for the crowd. That is not the way it's been for the Pistons so far this season.

It's been Andre Drummond trying to find his offense in the half-court set but getting most of his production with high energy.

It's been Reggie Jackson probing the middle, finding success at times but getting in trouble frequently, as well.

It's been typically accurate shooters not shooting so well. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (37.8 percent), Stanley Johnson (32.1 percent), Tolliver (33.3 percent), Steve Blake (12.5 percent) are key members of the gang that can't shoot straight. However, all of them have made key plays during the Pistons' 3-0 start.

"It is the absolute thing that separates teams in this league," Tolliver said. "It is the ability to grind out tough games. A lot of people blame stuff like youth. At the end of the day I don't care how young we are; it's what we have to do if we are going to be any good. We have to win when we are not shooting the ball well."

It's also important for the Pistons to keep the energy up. Drummond is different now. He used to allow bad plays to get him down. Sometimes it got so bad that Van Gundy pulled him from games to allow him to refocus. Drummond is shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and many of his misses are off set plays that he's worked on all summer.

Those shots will fall eventually but this is a new role for Drummond. He's been the energy guy that latches on to rebounds and slams them through the basket. Now he's added some back-to-the-basket moves, although he continues to chase Jackson passes inside and finishes.

"I have been working on my offensive game in the post," Drummond said. "I'm having a rough time finding my shot right now. I don't really let it get me down. I hang my head sometimes but I get back on defense. I'm trying not to be selfish."

Defense and rebounding isn't pretty, but a 3-0 record certainly is. It's admittedly a small sample size, but through Friday's games the Pistons ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring defense, allowing an average of 91.7 points. They were also third in rebounding differential (+11.6 per game).

"We really hone in on our defense," Drummond said. "Right now we are not really making shots. We can fall back on defense because if (opponents) don't score, there is not much they can do. We will continue to play defense until our shots fall."

Anthony Tolliver pressures Chicago's Nikola Mirotic Friday night.