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Pistons start strong, hold off Knicks

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Less than two minutes into Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the New York Knicks, the Pistons opened the scoring with three consecutive 3-pointers.

The Pistons continued to pummel the Knicks in the second quarter and cruised into halftime with a 24-point lead.

But what appeared to be a laugher in the first half nearly turned into an inexplicable loss as the Pistons overcame a miserable third quarter to stave off the Knicks for a 111-105 win at The Palace.

Stanley Johnson, who got his second career start in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (core muscle strain), finished with a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds in 44 minutes for the Pistons (27-24).

Reggie Jackson added 21 points, including several clutch baskets late in the fourth quarter, and Andre Drummond recorded his 42nd double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

After the Pistons took a 60-36 lead into halftime, the Knicks began clawing back, including an 8-2 run on two free throws apiece from Carmelo Anthony (19 points) and Lance Thomas, a hook shot by Robin Lopez (26 points, 16 rebounds) and an Arron Afflalo (24 points) basket to make it 70-54 with 5:54 left in the third.

The Knicks (23-29) kept whittling away, using an 8-0 spurt on an Afflalo floater, two Thomas free throws and four points from Lopez to cut it to 74-63 at the 3:16 mark.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 111, Knicks 105

Soon, the Pistons’ advantage was cut to single digits as Afflalo and Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Thomas added two free throws to make it 78-71 after three.

The Knicks kept applying pressure in the fourth, rattling off a 7-0 run that was capped by a Langston Galloway (17 points) 3-pointer to make it 89-88. Galloway struck again with another 3-pointer to tie it at 95 with 2:45 left.

Less than 30 seconds later, the Knicks took their first lead of the game, 97-95, after Lopez scored on a layup.

The Pistons answered right back as Anthony Tolliver nailed a 3-pointer — his only shot of the game — to go back on top before Jackson added another three for a 101-97 cushion with 1:21 left.

“It was very big,” Jackson said of Tolliver’s shot. “A.T. was very confident in his shot and we felt like we had a chance to run the pick and roll. They definitely put two men on myself and Dre …and A.T. did a great job of spacing.

“He got an open look and he was ready for it. After I put us in that position after missing those two free throws before, A.T. definitely gave us a lift by putting us back up one with that big shot.”

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The Knicks made it a one-possession game, 101-99, on Lopez’s dunk but Jackson nailed another huge 3-pointer to push it to 104-99 with 38 seconds remaining.

“He’s worth $80 million so I hope he could figure it out in the last two minutes,” Johnson said of Jackson. “That’s what we pay him for. That’s as simple as it gets. That’s his role on our team.

“Regardless of what happens, he has to make plays whether it’s for himself or teammates. I know he has the utmost confidence in himself to make shots like that.”

Jackson and Johnson combined to hit 7-of-8 free throws in the waning seconds to seal it.

“I thought (Johnson) was tremendous,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We were even going to him down the stretch there before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him.

“He’s fearless, getting better all the time and not afraid to make plays.”

The Pistons set the tone early by making their first four 3-pointers, rolling out to 12-2 lead on a pair of Ersan Ilyasova (12 points) 3-pointers, a wing three by Marcus Morris (13 points) and a Jackson 3-pointer from straightaway.

Meanwhile, the Knicks struggled in the early stages, opening 1-for-10 from the field with three turnovers. But they went on a 7-4 run to cut the deficit to five, 16-9, on an Anthony jumper, Galloway free throw and Lopez dunk and tip-in.

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After taking a 27-15 lead at the end of the first, the Pistons scored seven of the first nine points of the second to double up the Knicks, 34-17, on a Brandon Jennings (11 points) 3-pointer, a goaltending call on Darrun Hilliard’s layup attempt and a Hilliard jumper.

Kristaps Porzingis snapped the Knicks’ drought with a 3-pointer, but the Pistons rattled off a 10-0 run to take control. Johnson started it with an elbow jumper, Jennings followed with a three and two free throws before Johnson capped it with a three-point play to make it 44-20 with 6:51 left in second.

The Pistons cushion quickly ballooned to 48-21, its largest lead of the game, after Hilliard hit a floater and Aron Baynes threw down an emphatic dunk a little over a minute later.

The Knicks managed to trim it to 52-31 before the Pistons countered with an 8-5 run to close out the first half, highlighted by Jennings’ coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds to take what seemed like an insurmountable 60-36 lead at halftime.

“None of them will admit it, but there was more than one guy who thought the game was over at the half and brought nothing to start the third quarter,” Van Gundy said. “You don’t play hard in the NBA, that kind of stuff can happen and luckily we got out of there with a win.”