Caldwell-Pope, big run help Pistons win again
Auburn Hills — Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knew his shots would eventually start falling.
Despite averaging eight points on 26.3 percent shooting — including 12.5 percent from 3-point range — through four exhibitions, Caldwell-Pope’s confidence didn’t waver.
Caldwell-Pope finally snapped out of his funk Monday with 23 points on 6-for-11 shooting from deep range to lead the Pistons to their third straight exhibition win with a 102-78 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at The Palace.
“I just stayed with my shot. I didn’t let the misses or the games before keep me down,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I just kept shooting my shot and kept believing.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had to tinker with his lineup and bench rotation with forwards Stanley Johnson (left foot) and Marcus Morris (knee tendinitis) out, and point guard Reggie Jackson (left knee) on the mend.
Early foul trouble added to the reserves’ minutes and led Van Gundy to lean on Caldwell-Pope and Tobias Harris.
Harris responded with 16 points and Andre Drummond added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Pistons (3-2). Rookie Henry Ellenson and center Boban Marjanovic took advantage of the extra run, combining for 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21, Jabari Parker 18 and Greg Monroe 12 for the Bucks (2-3).
After the bench helped keep the Pistons in the game in the first half, the starters — particularly Caldwell-Pope — turned the game around in the third quarter
Trailing 48-40 at halftime, the Pistons opened the second half on a 20-2 run to take a 60-50 lead with 7:26 left.
Harris started the spurt with a 3-pointer and Drummond chipped in a pair of layups before Harris added a three-point play and dunk. Caldwell-Pope began to find his stroke with back-to-back 3-pointers and Ish Smith capped it with a running floater.
Caldwell-Pope continued his 3-point barrage with a four-point play and Smith added another 3-pointer as the Pistons pushed their lead back to double digits, 67-54, at 5:26 mark.
“(Caldwell-Pope) is a guy who works hard on his jumper every single day and it was only a matter of time,” Harris said. “He's a very good 3-point shooter and he got some good looks today and that confidence goes a long way. Biggest thing is to keep working every single day and he does that, so it's no surprise.”
The Bucks wouldn’t go away, though, countering with a 14-4 run to cut it to 76-70 early in the fourth.
Aron Baynes, who was a game-time decision with back spasms, answered with a layup and Ellenson nailed a 3-pointer to re-establish a double-digit lead, 81-70, with 8:32 left.
The Bucks were only able to cut it back to single digits once the rest of the way and never threatened after the Pistons used a 15-4 run — featuring two Drummond free throws, a Reggie Bullock 3-pointer and Michael Gbinije dunk — to gain a comfortable 96-76 cushion with 2:41 left.
“I think it started in the second half with our defense, and then we got back in it because we were able to defend and rebound,” Van Gundy said. “I thought it all started with our defense. In the second half we did a better job with getting the ball out of the paint, we didn’t foul.
“Early in the game, it was just layups and fouls. I thought that in the end of the second quarter we did not play well but we fought. We kept ourselves at least in the game and had an unbelievable third quarter.”
The first half was a different story as Antetokounmpo caused all sorts of havoc in the paint with his lengthy frame from the start, scoring a pair of driving layups and drawing three quick fouls as the Pistons fell behind, 8-4, with 8:08 left in the first.
The fouls continued to mount as starters Drummond, Jon Leuer and Smith all drew two fouls within the first six minutes of the game, forcing Van Gundy to go to backups Ray McCallum Jr., Baynes and Ellenson.
Ellenson came in and provided a spark off the bench, snapping the Bucks’ 13-0 run with a 3-pointer from the wing and making his first three shots as the Bucks held a 26-16 lead after one quarter.
Drummond picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first 18 seconds of the second quarter on back-to-back possessions, which prompted Baynes to come back in and led to Marjanovic spelling Baynes later in the quarter.
Marjanovic scored six straight points for the Pistons — four free throws and a hook — to help spark an 11-2 run that ended with two free throws and a 3-pointer by Caldwell-Pope as the Pistons cut the deficit to 48-40 at the half.
“Just seeing the ball go through (the net) no matter what kind of shot it was helps, whether it was a three, a two or even a layup,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Just seeing the ball go through the net got me going and popped the lid off.
“Right now, I haven’t been shooting the ball well, so this is one of the nights I shot the ball well. It is better now than later. I am just trying to get myself better before the season starts.”
The Pistons host the Raptors in their sixth and final exhibition Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. before opening their season in Toronto on Oct. 26.