Auburn Hills — Boban Marjanovic was very much an unknown quantity when he was signed in the offseason as a free agent.
Not unknown for his bubbling personality, but more for his game on the court.
He gave The Palace crowd a sterling introduction on Thursday night, posting a career night, with a season-high 15 points and career-high 19 rebounds in his coming-out party in Detroit.
But it almost went for naught.
The Pistons squandered a 19-point fourth-quarter lead by surrendering 44 points in the final period, but held on in the final seconds to take a 115-114 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night.
The Hornets nearly won the game on a wild final play. With 0.5 seconds remaining, Marco Belinelli inbounded the ball off Marcus Morris’ back, corralled it and put up a 3-pointer that banked in after the buzzer.
Officials reviewed the play and determined that the ball left Belinelli’s hand after time had expired — and the Pistons prevailed.
“We’re content with getting the win — it’s not the way we wanted to finish the game. We think we did what we wanted to for 36 minutes,” said Reggie Jackson, who had 22 points and 11 assists. “Fortunately, we got a win; unfortunately, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
The Pistons (17-21) played like they were trying to run out the clock, after pulling ahead, 91-72, with 9:54 left. A 15-2 run in the last 1:35 of the third quarter, plus the first 2:06 of the fourth seemed to make it all academic, especially for the Hornets (20-17), who were on the second night of a back-to-back.
But Kemba Walker scored 20 of his 32 points and Marvin Williams added seven of his 19 points in the final quarter. After the run, the pair combined for nine straight points, with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer by Williams.
Morris (20 points, 10 rebounds) countered with a 3-pointer, but Walker responded with a driving basket and a 3-pointer to trim the lead to eight with 6:05 remaining.
Tobias Harris (25 points) hit a 3-pointer and Spencer Hawes (18 points) answered. The teams traded baskets and when Jackson hit a three-point play with 3:51 left, the lead was back to 10.
Walker got hot in the final minutes, hitting a 3-pointer and Hawes followed with another, to make it 108-101. After a basket by Jackson, Walker scored two straight times and cut the deficit to 110-108 with 42.7 seconds left.
Jackson again came through, with a jumper with 26.6 seconds remaining, but Walker added another lay-in. Jackson split a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds left and Hawes connected on a tying 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining.
Jackson broke the tie with a pair of free throws and on the ensuing possession, Belinelli was held by Morris and was awarded a free throw and possession of the ball with 1.9 seconds left. He made the free throw, leading to the frantic finish.
Pistons coach talks about team's performance and the breakout game for Boban Marjanovic. Rod Beard
That all came with Marjanovic on the bench, which led to some letdown, which coach Stan Van Gundy seemed to regret.
“Probably the biggest reason that game got close is I took (Marjanovic) out for a rest and then it got late and I didn’t go back to him,” Van Gundy said. “I should have just left him in as tired as he was, and the game would have been over.”
Marjanovic electrified fans with his effort on rebounds, using his height to his advantage and getting to the free-throw line when he wasn’t able to score from the field. He finished 3-of-4 on field goals and 9-of-11 on free throws.
For the second straight game, Marjanovic got extended playing time because of the injury to Aron Baynes (left ankle sprain) and having Andre Drummond in foul trouble. He played a season-high 22 minutes and totaled nine offensive rebounds, along with a block.
“He was phenomenal; he was major. What he did was special,” Jackson said. “Hats off to just the performance that he had and the dynamic that he brought to the game.”
The Pistons had a season-best 37 points in the first quarter, jumping to an 18-11 lead in the first five minutes. Jon Leuer led the charge, with a dunk and 3-pointer and Morris added a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.
Williams helped the Hornets cut into the lead, finishing a 6-0 spurt with a pair of free throws, trimming the lead to one.
Then there was Boban.
He hit a pair of free throws and after a highlight-reel, two-handed dunk by Harris, Marjanovic split a pair of free throws and had another two after a basket by Ramon Sessions.
The Pistons finished the quarter on an 8-2 run — with another free throw and another basket by Marjanovic — to make the lead 37-26. Marjanovic started the second quarter with another basket on the Pistons’ first possession.
“I try what we do on the practice court and show that on the court,” Marjanovic said. “I’m a good size, strong and I lift. They don’t allow me to make easy baskets and get to the free-throw line.
“We work for everything and I try to go in the game and prove myself.”
Drummond (16 points, nine rebounds) returned and had two straight baskets, boosting the lead to double digits, 43-33. The Hornets had an 8-2 run, with four free throws by Nicolas Batum and a reverse by Hawes.
But the Pistons answered with a 10-2 stretch, after a hook by Drummond, a 3-pointer by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a jumper by Morris and a three-point play by Jackson. That made the lead 55-43 with 3:26 left in the half.
The Pistons maintained their lead but the Hornets finished the first half with three free throws by Walker after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt, for a 58-48 lead.
The Pistons next head out on a five-game, 10-day road West Coast trip, beginning at Portland on Saturday to try to build their first winning streak in more than a month.