Without Drummond, Pistons stay perfect at home
Auburn Hills — It was a fitting end for Aron Baynes, the Pistons’ warrior, holding a towel to nurse a bloody nose after taking a shot that penetrated his protective face mask.
It’s becoming par for the course for Baynes, who was recovering from a broken nose, but absorbed the blow and still had one of the best games of his career.
Baynes started for the injured Andre Drummond and scored 20 points — one off his career high — and chipped in eight rebounds, helping the Pistons silence the Thunder, 104-88, on Monday night at The Palace.
The Pistons (6-5) won their second straight and improved to 5-0 at home, withstanding another standout performance from Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who dazzled with 33 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.
But Westbrook had little help — and the Pistons took advantage.
The Pistons got 22 points from Tobias Harris and 17 from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who also had the difficult task of trying to guard Westbrook, but got plenty of help.
“That was our game plan: we weren’t going to stop him from scoring the ball,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We just wanted to contain him and make him take tough shots.”
Coach Stan Van Gundy credited the Pistons’ defense — which held the Thunder to 38-percent shooting from the field — and better ball movement (25 assists on 43 made field goals) for the strong play.
The Pistons led by 19 late in the third quarter and, as they’ve done in their five home wins, played well defensively. In each of their wins, they’ve held the opponent under 100 points.
The 16-point margin is the largest in the head-to-head series since the Thunder's move from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
“Our defense at home has been great; we need to try to get our defense on the road up to the level of what it’s been at home,” Van Gundy said. “For whatever reason, that’s something that should be pretty consistent from night to night. There shouldn’t be the gap in defensive numbers we have now between home and road.
“Tonight, we were really on it defensively and as tough as Russell is to stop — and he was tremendous again tonight — we did a good job of limiting them.”
The Pistons started with a flurry, jumping to an 8-1 advantage just over three minutes into the game. Ish Smith (11 points) scored on a drive and Caldwell-Pope added a jumper. Baynes punctuated the rally with a jumper at the elbow and followed with a drive.
Then Westbrook got started.
He scored on a drive and a jumper and later added a thunderous one-handed dunk and two free throws, as part of a 13-4 spurt. The Thunder started 0-of-5 from the field, but the run gave them their first lead, 14-12, at the 5:01 mark.
After a jumper by Caldwell-Pope tied it, Westbrook answered with a three-point play. But Caldwell-Pope responded with a 3-pointer and Beno Udrih (10 points, four assists) added a jumper to help restore the lead.
Enes Kanter (10 points) had three straight Thunder baskets, but Jon Leuer responded with a 3-pointer to tie it at 23 at the 1:33 mark. That started a 10-2 flurry to finish the quarter, with a three-point play by Harris and a basket by Boban Marjanovic (four points, four rebounds and two blocks) for a 28-25 Pistons lead.
In the second quarter, the Pistons created some cushion with a 13-0 run, including back-to-back drives by Udrih and two baskets by Harris. That run inflated the lead to 43-29 with 6:51 left — and the lead never got smaller than nine the rest of the way.
Westbrook hit a lay-in to make it 43-35 with 5 minutes left in the half, but Marcus Morris hit a 3-pointer, sparking another 10-2 spurt, with a jumper by Caldwell-Pope, a 3-pointer and a jumper by Harris.
In that final 5 minutes of the half, Westbrook scored all 14 of the Thunder’s points, but got a technical foul after he was fouled by Caldwell-Pope.
The Thunder pulled within 56-47 after Westbrook’s final eight points of the period, but Baynes converted a three-point play with 4.1 seconds left, for a 59-47 halftime lead. Baynes had 13 of his 20 points in the first half.
“Aron is a great worker and as the president, I’m not supposed to say this — because the guy can be a free agent and you’re not supposed to promote him — but he’s a starting center in the NBA,” Van Gundy said. “He’s just playing behind an All-Star.
“It’s not surprising that he played as well as he did. That’s who he is — a really good player — and when he gets an opportunity like tonight, he steps up and takes advantage of it.”
Baynes said Monday was supposed to be his last day wearing the protective mask for his broken nose, but he’ll likely be examined again on Tuesday to see if he’ll need to keep it on.
“I don’t know if I had that much more energy than normal; everyone else was drawing the defense and guys gave me the easy play to make,” Baynes said. “It’s a credit to my teammates more than anything.”
The Thunder made a final push, with an 11-4 surge, to make it 94-84, but Caldwell-Pope put it away with a three-point play on a reverse lay-in and converted the free throw for a 13-point lead. Harris added a dunk and the rout was on.