Auburn Hills — Sometimes strong offense is a reasonable substitute for good defense.
But down the final stretch of the Pistons’ season, some good defense wouldn’t hurt either.
The Pistons’ defense was better than in their three losses the last four games, but they almost squandered an 18-point lead in what would have been one of the most crushing losses of the season. They posted season highs in scoring in the first quarter and at halftime, but still needed a surge in the final minutes to put the struggling Sacramento Kings away.
Behind a strong effort from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on offense and defense and sharp shooting from Marcus Morris, the Pistons held on for a 115-108 win over the Kings on Friday night at The Palace.
“It’s just a win. It’s a win by (seven) points; it’s a good win,” said coach Stan Van Gundy said, who watched a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter turn into an antacid-inducing fourth quarter. “It doesn’t matter how the game goes.”
They looked to be in control, but a tough third quarter, with six turnovers and just 35-percent shooting helped turn things around.
Morris went 6-of-7 on 3-pointers and finished with 24 points. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 23 points and Reggie Jackson played through an illness with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
“It sounds crazy but sometimes your offense can be your best defense and sometimes your defense can be your best offense,” said Jackson, who exited the game at the 4:55 mark of the first quarter and vomited in a trash can behind the bench.
Jackson played 34 minutes and didn’t seem to show any ill effects the rest of the game.
The Pistons (35-34) were in trouble when the lead evaporated, following Quincy Acy’s jumper with 10:47 left in the fourth, capping a 15-3 spurt by the Kings that stretched back to the third quarter.
Tobias Harris (17 points) helped regain the lead with four straight points, on two free throws and a jumper. The Kings closed within 95-94 on a 3-pointer by Rudy Gay (19 points) but Harris again answered with a lay-in, pushing the lead to three.
The Pistons scored the next two baskets, with lay-ins by Jackson and Caldwell-Pope igniting a 10-2 run. Caldwell-Pope added back-to-back 3-pointers to provide a comfortable cushion, 107-98, with 3:23 remaining.
“He’s been playing really, really well at both ends,” Van Gundy said. “He’s been our most consistent player of late and he’s on a good run right now.”
DeMarcus Cousins (31 points, 10 rebounds) anchored the Kings (26-42), scoring 12 straight points during the final stretch in the fourth quarter. His lay-in at the 2:20 mark cut it to 109-104, but the Pistons got the next six points, with a lay-in by Jackson and two free throws and a lay-in from Baynes for an 11-point margin.
The first half looked to be a runaway, as the Pistons scored a season-high 39 points in the first quarter, behind nine points from Caldwell-Pope and eight each from Drummond and Harris. The Pistons shot 59 percent (16-of-27), including five 3-pointers.
“Tonight was big,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We needed to buckle down defensively and get this win. Tonight, we got back on track.”
The Pistons had a 14-2 run spurt during the first, with a three-point play from Jackson and two baskets by Caldwell-Pope to jet out to a 24-10 advantage.
Jackson exited the game soon after and the lead stayed at 14 after the first quarter. The Kings cut it to nine after two baskets by Gay and a 3-pointer by Darren Collison but the Pistons answered with eight straight points, with a jumper and 3-pointer by Morris and another 3-pointer by Steve Blake.
Morris had his third 3-pointer of the quarter after back-to-back baskets by Cousins and a three-point play by Harris. The Kings scored seven straight points to cut it to 11 but the Pistons got a jumper from Stanley Johnson and a fourth 3-pointer of the quarter with 8.9 seconds left.