Auburn Hills — It’s not a perfect win, but in the midst of a playoff race, the extra style points for perfections don’t matter.
A win is a win.
For the past couple of weeks, the Pistons have struggled defensively in trying to hold opponents under 30 points in the first quarter. In five of the previous seven games, they had allowed at least 30 in the opening period; in the other two, they put on the clamps and emerged with victories.
On Wednesday, the first quarter wasn’t the issue — the Pistons gave up just 21 points to the Orlando Magic. But in the second period, the Magic posted 36, helping trim an 11-point, first-quarter lead.
The defense improved, but the offense was even better in the second half, as the Pistons shot 54 percent from the field and coasted in the fourth quarter to a 118-102 victory over the Magic at The Palace.
It’s the fourth straight win for the Pistons (38-34), who moved a game ahead in the No. 8 position in the East with the Bulls’ loss to the Knicks. The Pistons improved to 4-1 on their nine-game home stand, including the last four, against teams not in the playoff race.
Andre Drummond finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds, Reggie Jackson added 16 points and nine assists and Tobias Harris 18 points.
“We have to protect the home court. We’ve got a couple tough teams coming in here the next few games and those are games that we must win,” Harris said. “We have to take it one game at a time; we have to handle our business. All we can really worry about is ourselves every single game, what we bring to the table — and let the rest handle itself.”
That business continues to be on the defensive end, where the Pistons played better, but still conceded more than 100 points for the seventh time in the last eight games.
The next four games — and nine of the last 10 this season — are against teams in playoff position and will test the Pistons’ defense and mental fortitude.
“The main problems were not our defense, per sé; I thought our half-court defense was better. It was our turnovers leading to points, 22 points off turnovers and 22 second-chance points where we weren’t blocking out,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said.
The Pistons kept the Magic (29-42) in check from the field, allowing just 38 percent (9-of-24) field-goal shooting in the first quarter. The Magic made 5 of their first 17 field goals in the first nine minutes and the Pistons had a comfortable 30-12 lead, including a quick 10-2 opening spurt, with five points from Harris.
The lead surged to 18 before the Magic had a 9-2 finish to the quarter, with a jumper by Mario Hezonja and a drive by Elfrid Payton (20 points). Hezonja added a 3-pointer and Jason Smith a jumper with 1.9 seconds left to make it 32-21.
In the second, the Magic cut the lead to 37-29 on a Payton lay-in, but the Pistons responded with a 9-0 run, on a 3-pointer by Stanley Johnson (13 points) and six straight points by Aron Baynes (13 points) off the bench.
The Pistons extended to a 15-point lead with 5:38 remaining, until the Magic scored 11 straight points, with five by former Piston Ersan Ilyasova and four by Payton. Victor Oladipo (14 points) closed the run with two free throws to make it 55-51 with 3:02 left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Magic had another run, 9-2, with four points by Aaron Gordon — including a baseline drive for a reverse dunk — and a 3-pointer by Evan Fournier (14 points) to get within 74-71 at the 7:24 mark, the closest they were since early in the first quarter.
The Pistons responded again, with a putback by Drummond, a jumper by Marcus Morris (15 points) and two free throws by rookie Darrun Hilliard, who had 11 points in his first career start, subbing for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who missed the game because of an illness.
“It was fun. When they called my name (to start), I hadn’t heard that in a long time,” Hilliard said. “I heard (assistant coach) Tim Hardaway say to just enjoy the game. When he said that, it relaxed me a little bit and I really enjoyed it.”
The Pistons had 30 assists on their 43 field goals and their ball movement, which has been an issue in recent weeks, wasn’t a concern.
“All of our guys moved the ball tonight,” Van Gundy said. “We had some turnovers and we didn’t handle it real well, but everybody was being unselfish.”
The Pistons put the game away early in the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run, including a jumper from Baynes, another 3-pointer by Johnson (13 points, eight rebounds) and a three-point play by Baynes (13 points).
Seven Pistons scored in double figures, including all five starters.
Drummond sparked another 8-2 spurt with six points and Johnson added a pair of free throws, making it 114-97 with 5:16 remaining.