Pistons rebound for victory after Drummond ejection

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Charlotte, N.C. — Maybe the Pistons got lucky. Maybe they put on virtual-reality goggles and envisioned they were playing at The Palace.

Maybe they got some energy from Andre Drummond’s ejection.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 112, Hornets 89

Whatever the impetus, the Pistons got a needed road win — and without two of their starters.

Drummond was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul in the second quarter and the Pistons bounced back in the second half, taking an impressive 112-89 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night at Spectrum Center.

It’s just the Pistons’ second win in 10 road games this season, but ended a three-game skid at Charlotte, where they lost by double digits in both matchups last season.

The Pistons continue their eastern road trip — facing three playoff teams from last season who are ahead of them in the standings this season — on Wednesday at Boston before heading to Atlanta on Friday.

The Hornets were playing their fourth game in five nights and the Pistons hadn’t played since Saturday, but coach Stan Van Gundy was happy to get a win, especially on the road.

“It was good. Give them their due: four games in five nights is awfully difficult in this league,” Van Gundy said. “They played a good second quarter, especially, but ran out of gas a little bit in the second half, but still, we did what we were supposed to do.

“It was important for us to do that, so I was happy.”

The Pistons made a season-high 12 3-pointers, including four from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

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Tobias Harris led the way with 24 points and seven rebounds and Marcus Morris added 18 points for the Pistons (9-10), whose only other road win this season came at Denver on Nov. 12.

But the Pistons played their most impressive game away from The Palace season so far this season, staving off several Hornets runs led by Kemba Walker (23 points) and stretched their lead in the third quarter.

Drummond’s ejection came during a critical juncture of the second quarter. The Hornets were in the midst of a 12-0 run and Drummond appeared to throw an elbow toward the back of the head of Hornets backup center Roy Hibbert. On the play, Walker made a 3-pointer to tie it at 46 with 4:09 remaining in the half.

Officials reviewed the play to determine the severity of the infraction and gave Drummond a flagrant-2 and ejection. He finished with three points and six rebounds in 13 minutes.

“I don’t make the rules; I just play the game,” Drummond said. “They felt like I did something maliciously. Everybody who knows me knows that’s not the type of player I am.”

Even without Drummond, the Pistons were able to hold on — and even push ahead — before halftime.

Nicolas Batum finished the run with a 3-pointer for a 50-46 lead — the Hornets’ largest of the game — but the Pistons got seven straight points from Ish Smith (13 points), including a three-point play and a coast-to-coast lay-in, plus a jumper by Aron Baynes and two free throws from Caldwell-Pope to finish the half on a 11-4 run and take a 57-54 advantage at halftime.

Caldwell-Pope’s beefed-up stat line was a boost for the backcourt, especially without Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis), who is expected back in the next week or two.

“I’m just trying to do more than score the ball,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’m trying to get rebounds on the defensive end and try to get my teammates involved.”

The Pistons started the third quarter with a 3-pointer by Morris but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist responded with two free throws and Walker added a jumper to trim the lead to two. Harris followed with a three-point play to push the lead back to five.

The Hornets (10-8) got within two again on a Walker 3-pointer but Harris answered with a jumper. Morris had another 3-pointer after a Cody Zeller jumper and Walker again answered. Charlotte closed to one after a hook by Frank Kaminsky and a lay-in by Kidd-Gilchrist, but the Pistons pushed ahead with a 14-3 spurt to finish the third quarter.

Smith had a step-back jumper, Harris scored on a drive and Caldwell-Pope added a jumper before Jon Leuer’s hook to push the lead to 78-69 with 1:51 left.

The Hornets didn’t have a field goal in the final 5:41 of the third quarter and Caldwell-Pope finished with a pair of 3-pointers, for an 84-72 lead entering the fourth period.

The Pistons put it away early with another run. Baynes started with a hook and Leuer added a putback to push it to a 14-point lead. After a hook by Spencer Hawes, the Pistons had another spurt, with a 3-pointer by Darrun Hilliard, two free throws from Baynes and a steal and lay-in by Hilliard, making it 95-76 with 8:58 left.