Pistons thump Nets for third straight win
Auburn Hills — It wasn't until an hour before tip-off against the scuffling Brooklyn Nets that Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson found out he was going to get his first career start.
Forward Marcus Morris was a late scratch with left knee tendinitis after not feeling 100 percent during walk-throughs, marking the first time all season the Pistons altered their starting lineup.
While Johnson got off to a rough start with errant layups and offline jumpers, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond helped salvage the night as the Pistons earned their third straight win with a 103-89 victory Saturday at The Palace.
BOX SCORE: Pistons 103, Nets 89
Jackson paved the way with 23 points and eight assists for the Pistons (21-16), while Drummond had 23 points and 13 rebounds for his 31st double-double of the season and Ersan Ilyasova added 19 points and 13 rebounds. Johnson finished with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Fellow rookie Darrun Hilliard provided valuable minutes off the bench and set a career-high with eight points and four rebounds in 20 minutes, taking over Johnson's role as the sixth man.
“Darrun played really well; it was good to see him play like that. … Darrun's going to be a good player, he just hasn't gotten a lot of chance so far, but it was good for him to get 20 minutes and play to that level,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said.
“Stanley had a rough offensive day, but I thought he did a pretty good job on Joe Johnson and fighting through screens, so I was happy with both of those guys.”
After the Pistons utilized their transition game to build a 56-46 halftime lead, the Nets wasted little time whittling the deficit with a 9-0 run capped by a layup by Thaddeus Young (12 points) to make it 62-57 with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
The Pistons eventually countered with a 9-4 spurt that began with an Ilyasova 3-pointer and ended with a soaring, two-handed jam by Hilliard along the baseline to reclaim a double-digit advantage at 81-68 with 9:05 left.
Hilliard then sparked a 7-0 run with a three-point play followed by a Drummond lay-in and two free throws from Anthony Tolliver (10 points) to extend the lead to 90-72 with 6:13 remaining.
The Nets (10-27) managed to close it to 92-78 with 4:19 remaining behind two baskets from Young and a pair of free throws from Donald Sloan (15 points, 10 assists). But Jackson made sure the lead didn't dwindle to single digits, scoring seven points in the final four minutes to secure the Pistons' third straight home win.
“We knew they were going to battle but we also have been in the position where we're fighting back and you spend a lot of energy battling back,” Jackson said. “In the third we kind of hit a cold streak but felt like as long as we kept getting good looks, they would eventually go in and would find a way to build some comfort.”
The Pistons overcame a sluggish start by getting out on the break, reeling off a 9-0 run on a pair of Drummond lay-ins, a Jackson layup and a three-point play by Ilyasova to open a 21-12 cushion with 4:32 left in the first quarter.
The Pistons' lead swelled to 14 when Ilyasova's jumper from the wing made it 31-17 less than two minutes later, but the Nets cut it to single digits within the blink of an eye.
Sloan rattled off seven straight points to jumpstart a 15-6 run that included back-to-back baskets by Brook Lopez (19 points), a Johnson (14 points) jumper and thunderous putback jam by Thomas Robinson to trim it to 39-34 with 8:41 remaining in the second.
But the Pistons countered with an 8-2 spurt on two free throws from Aron Baynes, a Tolliver fast-break dunk, a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope floater and a Jackson mid-range jumper to reclaim a double-digit lead at 47-36 with 5:28 left en route to a 10-point halftime advantage.
The Pistons finished with 26 fast-break points, 19 of those coming in the first half, and 60 points in the paint.
“I thought we came out in the first quarter a little bit flat,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “We made it 72-65 (in the third) and we were never able to be close again after that. I feel like we just let go of the rope at that point.”
James Hawkins is a freelance writer.