Pistons tighten 'D' for win, end road trip at 2-2
Salt Lake City — It’s just one game, but during their four-game road trip, even a single game with good defense can be a catalyst for turning things around for the Pistons.
After allowing 30-plus points in four of the previous 10 quarters, the Pistons looked like a different defensive team early against the Utah Jazz.
They gave up a season-low 13 points in the first quarter but had to hold on in the final minute, getting past the Jazz for a 95-92 victory on Monday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The win helped the Pistons salvage a 2-2 split on the road trip — a welcome finish after a trio of disastrous defensive outings against the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets in the previous week.
Reggie Jackson scored 10 of his 29 points in the third quarter and Ersan Ilyasova added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons (24-21), who ended their two-game skid and swept the season series against the Jazz.
The Pistons held the Jazz to 33 percent through three periods but slipped back into their old ways, as Utah hit 62 percent (13-of-21) in the fourth quarter.
Rodney Hood (23 points) hit a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to pull within 93-92, but Jackson hit a pair of free throws to push it back the lead back to three. Gordon Hayward (22 points) got a look at a potential tying 3-pointer but it was off the mark.
“We never lost our fight and I was really proud of them,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s the hardest we’ve played since really early in the year.”
Jackson was active on both ends of the court, hounding Jazz guard Trey Burke (Michigan) and holding him scoreless on 0-of-8 shooting. His defense drew some rare praise from Van Gundy.
“He had a hell of a game,” Van Gundy said. “Forget the offense; that is the most consistent effort from start to finish defensively that I’ve seen Reggie make since we’ve had him — 70-plus games.”
The Pistons led by 10 entering the final period, but the Jazz trimmed it to 88-87 with 2:01 left on a floater by Rudy Gobert (17 points, 17 rebounds), which punctuated a 15-4 run.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope answered with scooping drive and Jackson followed with a 3-pointer to boost the lead back to six with 1:08 left.
Gobert had another dunk and Hood hit his final 3-pointer — one of his career-best six triples — before Jackson was able to put it away.
Anthony Tolliver and Hood each hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the fourth. Hood scored 11 straight Jazz points to cut the lead to six with 9:12 remaining. That started a string of 11 straight points for Hood and the Pistons were in the midst of a 33-point final period.
“Did our defense slip a little? Maybe, but Hood started with 11 points in three minutes,” Van Gundy said. “Stanley went under one screen, which was a mistake, and the others, he’s right with him and he’s drilling shots. I didn’t think that was bad defense.”
The three previous quarters were vintage defense, though, reminiscent of the 5-1 start to the season where they were playing their best of the season on that end of the court.
“We showed glimpses of being a great defensive team and we just have to keep it up,” Marcus Morris said. “Hopefully, we can build on that and it can be a teaching point throughout the season.
“The ride home would have been much longer if we would have taken an L tonight. We just have to build on it.”
In the first quarter, the Jazz (19-25) managed just 23 percent (5-of-23) from the field, including just 1-of-5 on 3-pointers. Hayward, who averaged 24.6 points in his last five games, was blanketed by Caldwell-Pope and Morris and was 0-of-6 in the first period but got going with 11 consecutive Utah points in the second quarter.
The Jazz shot 32 percent shooting (13-of-41) in the first half and the Pistons had a 48-36 lead. They kept the pressure on in the second half, holding the Jazz to 35 percent in the third quarter before Utah broke out in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what we’ve got to be,” Jackson said of the first quarter. “We shouldn’t be giving up more than 20-something points in a quarter. Even though we’re getting better offensively, we have to hang our hats on defense.”
Tolliver was solid off the bench for the Pistons, with 12 points off four 3-pointers.
The Jazz got a boost from Derrick Favors, who returned after missing 16 games because of a back injury, and contributed 14 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.