Pistons stun Raptors with 16-point rally in win

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Toronto — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t hesitate to go off script a little bit. He saw early on that his starting unit wasn’t playing well — and he adjusted accordingly.

With a double-digit deficit for most of the second half, including a 16-point margin to start the fourth quarter, Van Gundy resorted to a piecemeal rotation to finish out the game. That included using reserve point guard Ish Smith for 31 minutes and starter Reggie Jackson for only 17.

It worked.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 102, Raptors 101

The Pistons whittled away at the margin through the fourth quarter and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished things off with a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 13.2 seconds remaining.

That lifted the Pistons to a thrilling 102-101 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night before a stunned crowd at Air Canada Centre.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Pistons’ rally from a 16-point deficit entering the fourth quarter is largest deficit they have overcome in a regulation game since the team moved to Detroit in 1957-58.

“I’m really excited about it. Even at the end of the third when we were down 16 and struggling, I said to the assistants, ‘Our guys are playing hard and fighting.’” Van Gundy said. “They fought and fought and fought. It wasn’t easy — it wasn’t one of those runs where you hit three or four threes in a row.

“Just grind it out and get it down to a manageable number and then got a couple big stops and a great shot down the stretch.”

The win pushed the Pistons (26-29) into a tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, joining the Chicago Bulls, who lost earlier Sunday. They have identical records, but the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

Caldwell-Pope finished with 21 points and Tobias Harris added 24 points and six rebounds off the bench. Smith played the final 19 minutes and finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“Just hope it goes in — that’s what I was thinking,” Caldwell-Pope said of the final shot. “I had a rough night shooting the ball, from the field and from 3. Every time I came out the huddle, everybody said keep shooting and not to let it get me down.”

Caldwell-Pope was 1-of-11 on 3-pointers before the final shot and the Pistons finished just 8-of-31 (26 percent). But Caldwell-Pope kept shooting — and came through when it mattered most.

“The thing that you’ve got to like about Pope is there’s no fear,” Van Gundy said. “The situation of the game doesn’t faze him. He took the one (3-pointer) before and missed it, then came right back and got the one in the corner and knocked it in.”

The Pistons’ starting group couldn’t get going, falling into offensive ruts and not being able to stop the Raptors (32-23) backcourt tandem of DeMar DeRozan (26 points) and Kyle Lowry (15 points).

Pistons’ Johnson making halting but definite progress

Stanley Johnson boosted the bench effort with 11 points, one off his season high, but Van Gundy liked Johnson’s defense, making adjustments on the fly and coming up with key turnovers down the stretch.

“It means a lot. We battled all night; we kept fighting and just stayed positive through all the ups and downs of the game,” Harris said. “We knew it was a game of runs but tonight we really pushed through and that was a good sign for us because we just mentally stuck with it and kept battling.”

The reserves had a 9-0 run to trim the Raptors’ lead to 88-82 with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. Marcus Morris (11 points) had a pair of free throws, Johnson a 3-pointer, Morris a baseline jumper and Andre Drummond a putback.

Lowry and DeRozan seemed to answer every rally the Pistons had. Lowry hit a 3-pointer off a turnover by Smith. The Pistons kept chipping away, making it a five-point deficit after two free throws by Harris and a drive by Smith. DeRozan answered with a jumper and Harris and Drummond (10 points and 18 rebounds) answered for a 97-94 Raptors lead.

Drummond later split a pair of free throws and Caldwell-Pope hit a leaner to cut the lead to 101-99 with 47.9 seconds left. The Pistons got a final chance — and Caldwell-Pope came through with the biggest shot of the game.

“That (starting) unit obviously struggled but the reason Reggie and Jon didn’t come back is not because they didn’t deserve another chance at it — even though they played bad,” Van Gundy said. “Tobias was playing really, really well and Ish was playing really, really well. Those two guys were playing great and fueling us, especially on the offensive end, so we just stuck with them.”

Morris got a stop on DeRozan on the final possession to preserve the win.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard