Backcourt steadies Pistons in win over Celtics
Auburn Hills — With the game in limbo, the Pistons leaned on their backcourt to get through the end of the game.
Reggie Jackson, who has been playing at an All-Star level for most of the season, put in another virtuoso performance and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had one of the best games of his career.
The Pistons (15-12) needed all they could get from their guards, who finished the game much like a baseball bullpen, fueling the Pistons in Wednesday night's 119-116 victory over the Boston Celtics at The Palace.
Caldwell-Pope had a career-high 31 points and Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. The guards combined to score 26 of the Pistons' 34 points in the fourth quarter, including the final 22.
Using a baseball analogy, Jackson was the closer — with 13 straight points during a stretch of 2:14 — and is settling into that role.
"I don't think there's any question — he's our go-to guy down the stretch," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He's performed that role very well in a lot of games and even in the last game when we ended up losing, he's very good down the stretch. We're really happy."
But if Jackson was the closer, Caldwell-Pope was the setup man.
After the Celtics' Tyler Zeller hit a basket to open the fourth quarter, Caldwell-Pope hit a jumper and followed with a steal and breakaway dunk. That ignited a 14-0 run, with a putback by Andre Drummond (16 points, 12 rebounds) and back-to-back 3-pointers by Anthony Tolliver. Those were the only Pistons points not scored by Jackson or Caldwell Pope in the final period.
While Jackson is accustomed to big games this season, Caldwell-Pope's production was a big step up, partially due to some new plays that Van Gundy added to the offense, and Caldwell-Pope's confidence swelling after making a couple of shots in a row.
"I'm a shooting guard, so I'm going to keep shooting — it's going to go in eventually," said Caldwell-Pope, who went 10-of-16 from the field, including three triples. "(The new plays) obviously worked. We were running them and making plays. We ran them until they stopped it."
It was a breakout game for the Pistons offense, hitting 49 percent from the field, with 11-of-21 on 3-pointers. All five starters scored in double figures, with 11 points each from Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova.
But the Pistons had to hold on in the final minutes as the Celtics cut the lead to 114-113 with a jumper and a three-point play by Evan Turner with 19.3 seconds remaining. Caldwell-Pope followed with four straight free throws but Isaiah Thomas hit triple to cut it to a two-point lead with 2.7 seconds left.
Jackson split a pair of free throws and a desperation shot at the buzzer was off the mark.
The backcourt's performance finished another game that was in doubt down to the wire, but closing has become one of Jackson's hallmarks — and a new moniker.
"It's an honor for (Van Gundy) to speak highly of me in that sense but I still have to go out there and be better," Jackson said. "(Caldwell-Pope) was the catalyst for us tonight. He really got us going when thing were looking dim. He just played well."
The unsung hero was Drummond, who hit an unlikely shot that turned the tide late in the second quarter. Drummond got a rebound and dribbled to midcourt and hit a halfcourt heave just before the buzzer to give the Pistons a 55-52 lead at halftime. It was his first 3-pointer of the season and just the second of his career, and helped switched the momentum.
"I shoot that shot all the time," Drummond said. "I ran up and went to the spot I usually shoot from and I pulled up."
Thomas tied his career high with 38 points and pushed the Celtics (14-12) to an eight-point lead after scoring seven straight points. But Caldwell-Pope answered 10 consecutive Pistons points, starting with a jumper and 3-pointer.
Stanley Johnson's putback with 42.4 seconds left tied it at 42 before Drummond's highlight-reel play.
"Obviously, there are a number of plays down the stretch that you'd like to have back and you would like to play better," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, "but the biggest things was at the end of the first half and the start of the second, they really set the tone for the rest of the game."
The Pistons shot 60 percent (12-of-20) in the second quarter and turned a seven-point deficit after the first quarter into a three-point advantage at the break.
Drummond was not a factor in the first half, with just two points and two rebounds before his long triple. But he got started in the third quarter, with nine points and four boards in third alone.
Although Drummond was 6-of-10 on field goals, he made 3 of 10 free throws, including half of six attempts when he was intentionally fouled midway through the third quarter.
"I didn't think he brought anything to the game in the first half," Van Gundy said. "He's done that before but to his credit, I thought he brought a lot to the game in the second half. I don't know what changed, but it did and that was a good thing."
Drummond's energy picked up in the third quarter, with nine points and five rebounds, helping the Pistons take an 85-83 lead heading into the final period.