Smith really coming on in fill-in role for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Atlanta — Ish Smith didn’t want to hear any discussion about the play.

It looked to be a block and the referees called it a block. But it looked like goaltending, too.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas went up for what looked to be an easy layup and the 6-foot Smith got up and erased the shot, leading to some boos from Celtics fans at TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday.

It didn’t matter. The play stood and the Pistons won 121-114.

Smith took some teasing from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as well: “That’s Superman!”

During the past week, Smith has been a different player, helping the Pistons to four wins in five games and providing a glimpse of how much better a fit he’ll be with the reserves when Reggie Jackson returns from injury in the next week or so.

He had his best all-around game this season against the Celtics: 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

In the last four games, Smith is averaging 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists and is shooting 59 percent overall, 33 percent on 3-pointers.

“That’s the biggest thing; it’s a comfort level,” said Smith, who signed as a free agent during the offseason. “You come to a new team and you don’t want to step on any toes. You don’t want to extend out but you want to play your game.

“Coach (Stan Van Gundy) does a great job — even though he gets on us a lot — he does a great job of pulling the best out of us and that’s why you love him so much.”

Trying to find that balance was tough at first for Smith, a speedy point guard who got out in front of the rest of the team whether in transition or in general. When the starting group adjusted, things started to get better, but it’s a tiring proposition.

“He pushes all the time and now the guys are running a little bit and they know they’ll get shots,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “He’s a really up-tempo guard and he did a hell of a job.”

Smith isn’t regarded as a big-time scorer, but some of his poorer shooting games have come with higher volume: 3-for-13 in the loss at Phoenix, 1-for-9 in the loss at Cleveland, and 5-of-17 in a win over Milwaukee.

He seems to have found a better balance of late.

“He’s playing really well these last two games and he’s been the catalyst,” forward Tobias Harris said. “You want to find your rhythm and get the other guys around you that play off you, especially at point guard, one of the toughest positions in the league, offensively and defensively, so he’s been doing a great job with it.”

Backup shooter

Van Gundy still is wavering on his options at backup shooting guard.

While Stanley Johnson hasn’t been as effective as last season, Van Gundy has looked to Darrun Hilliard and Reggie Bullock, but their production has been up and down as well.

Johnson was scoreless and ineffective in the victory at Charlotte on Tuesday, and didn’t play at Boston. Hilliard has played the last five games and had his best game with nine points and three rebounds against the L.A. Clippers.

Slam dunks

Bullock, who suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee last week, is scheduled to have surgery and could be out 2-4 months.

He already has gotten a second opinion but said doctors won’t know the severity of the injury until arthroscopic surgery.

... The Pistons will celebrate their final season at The Palace with a “Best of Seven” promotion — games against seven rivals — from January-March. The scheduled starts with the Pacers (Jan. 3), followed by the Lakers (Feb. 8), Spurs (Feb. 10), Celtics (Feb. 26), Trail Blazers (Feb. 28), Bulls (March 6), and Heat (March 26).


Pistons at Hawks

Tip-off: 8 p.m. Friday, Philips Arena, Atlanta

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons (10-10) look to sweep their three-game trip. ... After a hot start, the Hawks (10-9) have lost seven of eight but boast a 6-2 home record.