Minneapolis — As one of the younger teams in the league, the Pistons have had a tough time in the first part of the season finding themselves.
Defense has been their calling card, but the offense has taken longer to catch up, with several new pieces on the roster. During their six-game, West Coast road trip, the offense came and went, especially during the final four games, when they lost to the struggling Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.
Defense kept them afloat once again Friday until the offense got clicking in the second half, and they ran away with a 96-86 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
It was the second straight win for the Pistons and ended a 10-game skid against Minnesota dating to the 2009-10 season finale. The Timberwolves haven’t won a game at home this season, but the Pistons — who are 4-4 on the road — needed to overcome a 10-point deficit to pull out the win.
Andre Drummond scored 15 of his 21 points in the pivotal third quarter and added 11 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season. Marcus Morris had his first double-double of the season, with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson added 18 points.
“(Drummond) played a really good second half — both those guys did,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I didn’t think Andre had much energy in the first half. … He started really slow tonight but he found it somewhere and in the second half, he was really good.”
Van Gundy said Drummond had a respiratory infection and missed practice on Thursday, but he played with more energy in the second half, getting deep in the post for easy hooks and putback baskets.
After trailing 44-38 at halftime, the Pistons chipped away in the first five minutes of the third quarter. Jackson had a dunk and Drummond followed with a drive. They tied it on a 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova and took their first lead since the first quarter when Drummond split a pair of free throws.
For Drummond, that started a string of nine straight Pistons points, as they pushed the lead to 63-59. Stanley Johnson (15 points) added a basket off a goaltending call and Spencer Dinwiddie completed a three-point play to make it 68-63, but Zach LaVine (14 points) hit a lay-in with 4.1 seconds left to cut it to a three-point lead entering the fourth.
“We played at their pace. Going into the fourth, I think we had 60-something (actually 65) points,” said Minnesota guard Andrew Wiggins, who had 21 points. “We’re a high-scoring team, we’re a high-pace team and I feel that we played to their pace.”
The Pistons pulled away early in the fourth, with six quick points, including back-to-back jumpers by Morris and a putback by Aron Baynes (six points and 11 rebounds). But the Timberwolves answered with a 7-0 run, with a 3-pointer by LaVine, two free throws and a hook from Wiggins to cut the lead to 74-72.
Another answer came with the Pistons’ 7-0 spurt, as Johnson added a baseline dunk, Drummond a hook and Johnson sealed it with a 3-pointer to make it 81-72 with 5:32 remaining.
From that point, the Timberwolves never got closer than five points.
Jackson took over the game in the fourth, with eight points down the stretch to help put the game away.
“It’s not our defense — we can’t score,” Timberwolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “We missed shots. They didn’t score 100 points. We played good enough defense to where we’ve just got to score.
“We’ve got shots. We’re missing them; we’ve got to score better. It’s the NBA; you’re not going to hold teams to 37 percent every night.”
Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota (5-8), which fell to 0-6 at home.
The Timberwolves shot 53 percent in the first quarter, but the Pistons were able to slow them down to 40 percent in the third quarter, when they were able to take the lead.
“We just decided to play defense. We keyed in and did things we wanted to do,” Jackson said. “We tried to limit the spacing on the floor and Andre was great protecting the rim.”