Jennings gives Pistons big jolt off bench
Toronto — Since returning from his Achilles injury on Dec. 29, Brandon Jennings was starting to develop a pattern to his high-production games.
He’d played in 16 games, but every four games, he had reached double figures, with a season-high 20 points against at New Orleans on Jan. 21. This time, he had a four-game stretch without double figures, including a scoreless outing against the Cavaliers on Friday night.
Jennings bounced back with his best game of the season, hitting 22 points with season-bests of five 3-pointers made on 11 attempts, in Saturday night’s 111-107 loss against the Toronto Raptors.
“The first 3 went in and felt good and I got another one,” Jennings said. “The toughest thing is coming off the bench and I have to find that rhythm. Those first two minutes, I was passive and I was trying to be aggressive.”
He had a good stretch early in the second quarter, where he helped trim a 12-point deficit with his first 3-pointer, then later in the period, he was fouled on a three-point try, converting all three free throws.
He followed with a steal and pulled up for a wing 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 38-34. The next trip down, he hit another 3 and the Pistons were within 3 before the Raptors pulled away for an eight-point halftime lead.
“It’s the best he’s been in a while,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “(Assistant coach) Tim (Hardaway) talked to him today about getting his energy back and pushing the ball up and down the floor and he did a good job of that.”
In the third quarter, he made another jumper and in the final period, he had a jumper and 3-pointer in consecutive possessions to get the Pistons within 10.
After a four-game stint, he came back Saturday with more energy and aggression, looking to find his shot and not look to teammates as much.
“It’s basically just me. I have to show up with a lot of energy. My role is different and I have to approach the game differently,” he said. “I have to be ready and when my number’s called, I have to be able to perform. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean making shots, but just playing hard and having energy.”
Jennings is looking to find a good rhythm and get back into NBA shape, though he missed most of the first half of the season. He looks to be rounding into a good form now, providing a boost off the bench.
Since his return, Jennings has said the hardest adjustment has been coming off the bench and having to produce quickly, instead of easing his way into the flow of a game as it progresses. It’s a different mentality, but he’s learning firsthand how difficult it can be.
“My hat goes off to anybody who’s had a career coming off the bench because that’s tough — I respect them,” he said.
Pistons forward Ersan Ilyasova left Friday’s game against the Cavs after being hit in the mouth. He returned to the bench but didn’t seem any worse for the wear.
As it turns out, he had another issue that caused him to miss Saturday’s game against the Raptors. Van Gundy revealed that Ilyasova had a groin injury that caused him to miss a start for the first time this season, pushing Anthony Tolliver into the lineup.
Van Gundy said he wasn’t sure how long Ilyasova might be out.
That also meant Van Gundy had to shuffle his rotations and get some odd lineups in and using rookie Darrun Hilliard for 10 minutes.
Tolliver said he wasn’t completely comfortable, having not played with Jackson, Drummond and others in the starting lineup very often this season.
For Jennings, it was also different, as one of his main shooters in the reserve lineup wasn’t playing with him as much.
“The rotations were different and we made some adjustments late in the game that got us back,” Jennings said. “If we could have done that a little earlier, it might have been a different story.”
Those rotations included an unusual one, with two point guards, Reggie Jackson and Jennings, in a rare pairing at the end of the third quarter.
It was part of a group that also included Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, as Van Gundy looked to counter the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. The Pistons were scoreless in the 1:45 the pair played together.
The Pistons had a season-low nine assists and no one had more than two in the game.
… Andre Drummond fouled out for the second time this season, with 6:37 left in the game.