Spurs provide measuring stick for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

For a few minutes, the Pistons looked like they were going to pull off an unlikely win.

In the middle of the second quarter of Wednesday’s nationally televised game at San Antonio, the Pistons had a six-point lead after a 12-0 run and were rolling toward their fifth straight win and dealing the Spurs their first home loss of the season.

Not so fast.

The Spurs clamped down and answered with a 12-5 spurt to end the half, taking a 52-51 lead on the way to a 97-81 victory, their 51st win of the season, which also clinched a 19th straight playoff appearance.

San Antonio long has been the picture of sustained success in the NBA, a level that the Pistons (31-30) are trying to emulate.

Although the Pistons had their run on Sunday, they didn’t have an answer for the trio of veteran Tim Duncan and relative youngsters Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored all 12 points during the decisive spurt. The Pistons never led after the second-quarter blitzkrieg — and they managed just 30 points in the second half.

It’s a lesson in keeping the foot on the pedal for the entire game, a consistency that the Pistons haven’t quite established yet.

“When you’re playing good teams, you have to get used to it. It was a good marker for us to come in here,” said reserve center Aron Baynes, who played with the Spurs for three years before coming to the Pistons in the offseason. “When we’re playing the right way, we know we can play with them — and that was evident in the first half.”

Things fell apart in the third quarter, when the Spurs had another 12-3 run to push the lead to 10. Aldridge, Duncan and Tony Parker scored all of the points in that stretch. The Pistons got good contributions from their bench, including 12 points from Baynes, but the qualitative lesson of sharing the ball and getting the key scorers involved to make big baskets was critical for the Spurs.

“We let the game slip away from us in the third quarter and got away from what we did in the first half,” said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was 1-for-10 shooting and had just four points. “People just started going one-on-one and making a tough play. We got away from what kept us in it in the first half.

“Sometimes when you haven’t touched the ball in a minute, people want to get (a shot) up. That gets contagious and we have to get away from that and get back to moving the ball.”

Baynes brings the experience of playoff runs with the Spurs, but there’s no quick fix to getting the Pistons to automatically follow that template.

The progress is sometimes slow, but there are signs that it’s starting to stick.

“It’s one of those things where we have to play 48 minutes the right way and then we know we can compete,” Baynes said. “Any good team you play, no matter who you are, if you come out here and make mistakes, they’re going to capitalize on it, and that’s what they did tonight.

“It was a good measuring stick for us and we want to play against the best because it will make us better in the end. It’s always better to learn in victory but we can learn a lot from this game and hopefully it makes us better for the rest of our upcoming schedule.”

Reserves pitch in

The Pistons reserves had another good showing, accounting for 25 of the 81 points. Baynes played well in relief of Andre Drummond, who got in early foul trouble in the first quarter, and Reggie Bullock added seven points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Darrun Hilliard and Steve Blake chipped in three points apiece, helping the Pistons to their big run, when they went up six in the second quarter.

It’s a process of trying to get comfortable with a band of new faces who have been pushed into more playing time due to the recent rash of injuries and the Brandon Jennings trade.

“We try to do our best to play good basketball. We just all know what each other is capable of and we’re going to do,” Hilliard said. “We know it’s not going to be a long period of time that we’re out there. We just try to make the best of it; if we can add to the lead or cut the deficit down, that’s good for us.”