Pistons making playoff push, win 4th straight
Auburn Hills — Things are starting to turn around for the Pistons.
Following a five-game skid bridging the All-Star break, they’ve won four straight — and they’re back in the thick of things in the race for the postseason, with 22 games left.
After beating the East-leading Cavaliers last week, the Pistons notched another big win, dumping the second-place Toronto Raptors, 114-101, before a raucous crowd on Sunday night at The Palace.
It’s the Pistons’ first win over Toronto this season, ending the Raptors’ run of nine wins in the last 13 meetings. All five starters scored in double figures for the Pistons (31-29), who moved into a virtual tie with the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls for the No. 8 spot.
That’s a big turnaround from the doldrums of a couple weeks ago, when they looked to be fading from playoff contention.
“I’m not big on reflection, but we’ve won four in a row. That’s big, but it’s just one day at a time, trying to win games,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The resiliency of the team has been a strength all year. Whether it’s within a game or within the season, it’s been a strength.”
Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, Andre Drummond posted his 51st double-double of the season, with 15 points and 18 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 16 points.
Each of the nine Pistons players who scored shot at least 50 percent from the field and they flourished, with 28 assists on 41 field goals.
“It just shows the team chemistry coming along,” said Tobias Harris, who had 14 points. “Everybody’s looking for each other and playing off each other.
The biggest thing is what we say when we’re gathering: “Family, on three!” and guys are playing like a family.
“Everybody’s looking out for each other and that’s what team basketball is about.”
The Pistons pulled away with their best third quarter of the season, scoring 37 points and shooting 78 percent (14-of-18) from the field, en route to building a double-digit lead.
Drummond started the flurry with a lefty hook, Jackson made a technical-foul free throw and Marcus Morris (14 points) followed with a lay-in.
“The ball movement’s better and because the ball movement’s better, we’re shooting the ball better,” Van Gundy said. “We played better offensively tonight, no question. I didn’t think we had a very good defensive night at all but offensively we were good.”
The Raptors (39-19) were playing without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry (rest), who averaged 21.4 points. But coach Dwane Casey wasn’t up for making excuses.
“It doesn’t matter; we didn’t come to play … we didn’t come to play with any defensive disposition whatsoever — and again, this league will hand it back to you,” Casey said. “We’re not good enough. We’re not good enough to do it with Kyle or without Kyle to come out without defensive focus.”
Steve Blake scored eight of his 10 points in the final three minutes of the third period, with two 3-pointers and two free throws, pushing the Pistons’ lead to 89-72. They outscored the Raptors, 37-20, in the quarter and held Toronto to 41 percent from the field.
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons put it away, fueled by another big run. Aron Baynes had baskets on consecutive trips and followed with two free throws. Reggie Bullock (eight points) helped put the game away with back-to-back 3-pointers, pushing the lead to 103-78 at the 8:29 mark.
After a three-point play by Joseph and two free throws from Terrence Ross (27 points), the barrage continued with a 3-pointer by Morris and a ferocious dunk in the lane by Baynes, over Joseph, who got a flagrant-1 foul on the play. That gave the Pistons their largest lead to that point, 109-83, and the Pistons were able to empty the bench.
Justin Harper — who’s on a 10-day contract — provided a spark off the bench in the first quarter. He hit 3-pointers on his first two field-goal attempts and helped the Pistons claw their way back from a first-quarter deficit to a 16-15 lead after a jumper by Caldwell-Pope at the 4:02 mark.
“In the first quarter, we weren’t playing well, Tobias picked up two quick fouls and we were sort of struggling and (Harper) hit two big threes,” Van Gundy said. “All three threes he hit were within the course of the game where it still mattered — pretty good for a guy coming in on a 10-day contract.”
Another Caldwell-Pope 3-pointer sparked a 7-2 streak and the Pistons led, 23-18, but in the last two minutes, the Raptors scored the last seven points of the quarter with a jumper by Ross and DeMar DeRozan (20 points) finished with a three-point play and a jumper, for a 25-23 lead.