Atlanta — After the Pistons fell into an 18-point deficit in the second quarter against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, it looked more and more like it would be a blowout and the starters might get some rest.
Then the bench came in and chipped away.
Not little by little, but with an onslaught of 3-pointers.
Steve Blake. Then two by Anthony Tolliver. Then another by Blake.
With Brandon Jennings dressed and active for the first time this season, the possibility of him entering the game in a lopsided game faded with the comeback.
Even as the lead went back and forth in the fourth quarter, the reserves continued to keep the game close, behind another surge from the reserves.
It’s been an up-and-down year for the second unit, but Tuesday’s win showed what it can do when it is playing at its peak.
It also meant that the Pistons don’t need to rush Jennings back too quickly and to make sure that he’s completely healthy — and in a position to contribute — before trying to put him back out on the court.
“For our team’s sake, the thing you’re trying to do is put the guys out there you think give you the best chance to win,” coach Stan Van Gundy said before Wednesday game at the Atlanta Hawks. “Until we believe that Brandon gives us the better chance than Steve, he continues to play behind Steve.”
At 35, Blake has made improvements since early in the season, when he struggled after missing all of the preseason because of a concussion. After a few weeks of conditioning, he’s steadied the ship with the reserves, connecting on 4 of 5 triples for a season-high 12 points against the Heat.
Blake has scored in double figures in three of the last seven games and averaging 7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 17.6 minutes.
Those aren’t stellar numbers, but he’s been what the Pistons needed while Jennings got healthy.
And in Van Gundy’s mind, there might not be a need to make a change — just yet.
“Our job is to win games and we have to what we think is best to do that,” Van Gundy said.
The Pistons’ work doesn’t stop on Christmas Eve; they will have a practice today to try to stay fresh. Even after back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday and some travel difficulties, Van Gundy wants to make sure they stay fresh.
“Back-to-backs are never easy. The travel is a little crazy,” he said. “You’re here now and you have a game to play.”
The usual routine is to have a day off after back-to-back games, but because of a scheduling quirk, the Pistons don’t have another game until Saturday against the Boston Celtics. With Christmas on Friday, they needed to practice Thursday to avoid having two days off.
“We’re not going to give them two days — because I don’t want to give them two days off,” Van Gundy said. “I left it to them and told them I want to get some work in. We won’t do a lot, but when do you want to go in the two days.
“It was my decision to go; it was their decision when to go.”
Added to the Pistons’ difficulties were some weather troubles on Tuesday night that prevented them from leaving Miami. They went to the airport, but fog in Atlanta meant they couldn’t leave until Wednesday morning
That upset the routine, but Van Gundy said it wasn’t detrimental to their preparation.
“We got in and did our walkthrough at the hotel, so we stayed as close as we could (to the routine),” he said.