Bench provides boost as Pistons beat Timberwolves
Auburn Hills — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said he doesn’t believe much in making New Year’s resolutions.
If he did, he probably would resolve to have the Pistons bench players carry over their stellar play from the last night of 2015 into the new year.
The reserves had a critical surge in the second quarter, turning a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead during a span of almost eight minutes.
That was the lift the Pistons needed to tame the Minnesota Timberwolves and take a 115-90 victory on Thursday night at The Palace.
Andre Drummond had 23 points and 18 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 22 points. Anthony Tolliver led the bench surge with 15 points, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers.
“That unit brought a lot of energy — all of them,” Van Gundy said. “Aron (Baynes) and (Tolliver) defensively did a great job. …Brandon (Jennings) had a good tempo going in that second quarter. They really picked it up.”
It was a welcome finish to 2015 and a sorely needed end to the Pistons’ three-game skid, which featured some of their most porous defense of the season, including allowing the New York Knicks to shoot 54 percent on Tuesday.
The first quarter looked like to be much of the same, with Minnesota starting 7-of-9 from the field and taking a 16-7 advantage in the first six minutes.
Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns (22 points) scored six straight Timberwolves points during the spurt, but Drummond answered with an alley-oop dunk from Reggie Jackson (19 points, nine assists). Drummond split a pair of free throws and Ersan Ilyasova added a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three.
Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad (15 points) hit a triple and hit one of two free throws for a 22-15 lead after the first quarter.
The Pistons went with four reserves and Caldwell-Pope to start the second and after Muhammad added another pair of free throws, Tolliver started an 8-0 run with a triple, followed by Baynes’ putback dunk and Jennings’ 3-pointer.
Tolliver hit another triple, tying it at 28 and Jennings, playing his first game at home since suffering a torn Achilles in January, hit a twisting lay-in to put the Pistons ahead for the first time in the game.
During the spurt, the bench erased the deficit and left with a two-point lead.
“We played three good quarters of defense and three good quarters of offense,” Van Gundy said. “The second and fourth, we played both (offense and defense).
“We played decent defense in the first quarter; the problem was we had seven turnovers, and then we played good offense in the third quarter.”
The starters carried it the rest of the way, with Jackson hitting a jumper and a 3-pointer in the next minute and Drummond finishing with three more baskets before the end of the half, for a 45-37 lead.
The Pistons shot 59 percent (13-of-22) in the third period and each team scored 33 points, as Detroit maintained its eight-point advantage entering the final quarter.
That’s when Tolliver got hot again.
He hit a triple to start the period, pushing the lead to 11, then after Andrew Wiggins (21 points) hit a basket, Caldwell-Pope converted a three-point play and Tolliver added another 3-pointer.
The Pistons put the game away with a 14-0 surge, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers by Caldwell-Pope and a lay-in by Drummond. Caldwell-Pope had another three-point play — for nine points in 81 seconds — and Tolliver notched his fifth triple to push the margin to 104-79.
Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica ended the streak with a 3-pointer, but Jackson answered with a three-point play and another layup for the largest lead, at 27 points.