Jackson setting tone for Pistons' playoff run
Salt Lake City — As he walked off the court following Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz, Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson took off his jersey and gave it to a young fan before heading to the locker room.
It was his way of punching out after a hard night’s work in leading the Pistons to a 95-92 victory, finishing the road trip at 2-2.
Jackson expended as much energy as he had in a game all season — save maybe the four-overtime thriller against the Chicago Bulls — with his work on both ends of the court. He finished with 29 points and shadowed Jazz guard Trey Burke (Michigan) through screens and around picks on the defensive end.
“He had a hell of a game. 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,” coach Stan Van Gundy said, beaming.
“He got after it on every possession and was on Trey Burke over screens, trying to get back in front. I’ve never seen him work to that level like he did tonight.
“The offense was great, but to see him make that effort defensively — and our team as a whole made that effort defensively — but that’s the best effort I’ve seen him make … and I’m really, really proud of him.”
It’s an encouraging sign for Jackson, who has had his share of struggles on defense this season, with many opposing point guards having big games against him.
Amid all the talk of leadership — or the lack thereof — in the locker room, the prevailing notion was that the Pistons don’t necessarily need a vocal leader to guide them; rather, having someone lead by example and produce a gritty effort in a game would be more the elixir they needed after losing three of the previous four.
Since taking over as the starting point guard midway through last season, Jackson has had his ups and downs, but he’s most likely to be the catalyst if the Pistons are going to make a playoff run. He’s carried the Pistons at times this season, but Monday’s performance is an indicator that the team goes as he goes.
“He played really well and he made a big shot down the stretch and defended well,” forward Marcus Morris said. “Our energy level was as high as it’s been in a long time.”
Jackson stayed after Monday morning’s shoot-around to get some extra shooting practice, feeling that his rhythm was a little off in the past couple of weeks. The extra work paid off, as he hit 12 of 19 field goals.
“I just wanted to stay and make sure I got some shots,” he said. “It definitely worked tonight and I was good and had my legs. It might be something I look into doing more often.”
His extra work including some rainbow floaters to try to prepare for 7-foot-2 Jazz center Rudy Gobert — and Jackson showed that touch in getting a couple of those shots to fall.
Questions have swirled during the road trip about who the team’s leader is, but whether there’s just one guy or a group effort, getting that boost is a vital component to getting them to the playoffs.
Jackson said that Van Gundy has the reins and is usually the loudest voice in the locker room, but that dynamic has been augmented with some good performances.
“Coach is going to be the vocal guy for us; that’s the way he does it, so I can only go lead by the way I play,” Jackson said Saturday. “I just have to out there and compete hard and control what I can control.”
Brandon Jennings made the initial comments about the lack of leadership, and he teamed with Jackson to hold the Jazz point guards, Raul Neto and Burke, scoreless in the game, with their defensive effort.
“I give Reggie credit because that’s the best I’ve seen him do it, but I also thought Brandon worked his butt off on Trey Burke,” Van Gundy said. “You see those guys out there at the head of the defense, giving that kind of effort, that’s setting the tone for other guys.”
The rest of the team seemed to respond to the tone the point guards set, and it resulted in a season-low 13 points allowed in the first quarter, including holding their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward, scoreless in the opening period.
During Jackson’s struggles, defenses have tried to take away his bread and butter play, the pick-and-roll, and force him to be a distributor early in games. On Monday, the Jazz couldn’t contain him, which opened things early, and he took advantage, with 12 points in the first half.
In Jackson’s first stint as an NBA starter, he’s still learning when to push the pace, probe or distribute, and Van Gundy has been with him along the way, with daily video review sessions to help break down the previous game.
It’s a new relationship for Jackson, too.
“This is the first time I’ve had a coach who does most of the talking,” he said. “Just adjusting to that; it’s (previously) been coaches who leave it to the players to be vocal and talking in the huddles and locker room.
“I’m figuring out how to do it.”
Midway through the season, he still has time, but the Pistons will almost certainly need it in their playoff quest.
76ers at Pistons
Tipoff: 7:30 Wednesday, The Palace of Auburn Hills
Outlook: The Pistons start a tricky stretch of four games, with the East’s two best teams (Cavs and Raptors), sandwiched between the two worst (76ers and Nets). After a horrific start, the Sixers (6-39) have split their last four games.