Detroit — In their first game in their new home, the Pistons got cooking early.
It started with Tobias Harris’ hot shooting, continued with their mix of swarming defense and finished with their depth off the bench. That turned out to be the right recipe for a win in their first-ever game at Little Caesars Arena.
It might take a while for the newness to wear off but on a night of firsts, the Pistons notched an important one, taking a 102-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, starting the season with a slew of surprises.
Harris had 17 of his 27 points in the first quarter and added 10 rebounds. Langston Galloway added 16 points off the bench and Avery Bradley 15 points in his Pistons debut.
“He (Harris) was incredible in the first quarter; he really got going and was really, really good,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It was a double-figure rebounding night for him, too, so it was outstanding.
Things came together, with a second-quarter flurry that pushed the lead to 56-45 at halftime, and they held on in the second half, never letting the Hornets get closer than eight the rest of the way.
The Pistons took their largest lead, 88-70, after back-to-back 3-pointers by Galloway and Henry Ellenson to start the fourth quarter and the defense never let the Hornets get on a sustained run to chip away at the deficit.
“With me, it’s all one thing: we won, so it was a good night,” Van Gundy said. “They’re a good defensive team and we struggled but we got enough contributions from enough people to end up OK.”
The Pistons’ reserves scored 37 points, including 13 from Ellenson, who hit a pair of 3-pointers. Galloway, signed as a free agent in the offseason, hit three 3-pointers.
The Hornets went on an 11-3 run, with five points by Kemba Walker (24 points, six rebounds and four assists) but Andre Drummond (eight points and 13 rebounds) had a dunk putback to push the lead back to 12. The Hornets trimmed the deficit to eight on a pair of free throws by Jeremy Lamb (15 points) and another pair by Walker, but Harris hit a 3-pointer with 1:11 left to push the margin back to 11.
The Pistons were hampered by foul trouble, with Bradley playing just 23 minutes, but going 7-of-10 from the field and Drummond playing just 22 minutes and getting a tough assignment against Dwight Howard (10 points and 15 rebounds) but Drummond managed four assists and two blocks.
Stanley Johnson went 0-of-13 from the field, including six misses from 3-point range, but his defense was critical, as he played a team-high 40 minutes and made some key deflections and hustle plays.
“He had some good defensive plays; he had four steals and was pretty active defensively,” Van Gundy said. “Clearly not the shooting night he had hoped to have.”
The Pistons got off to a hot start in the first quarter, fueled by an 8-0 run, with a three-point play and a 3-pointer by Harris. During a stretch of three-plus minutes, Harris had 15 of the Pistons’ 19 points, with a flurry of jumpers and two 3-pointers.
Harris finished the period with 17 points, as he got his offensive game into gear.
“I was able to get off on a good rhythm and taking what the defense gave me,” Harris said. “We were playing together and were able to use our defensive intensity to get starts and get out in transition.”
After struggling with tendinitis issues last season, Jackson returned to full action with 13 points, five rebounds, eight assists and no turnovers.
Ellenson was 5-of-10 shooting in 16 minutes, a clear vote of confidence from Van Gundy. It was one of his best scoring games of his career, getting the nod on the active roster ahead of veteran Anthony Tolliver.
With so many new faces contributing, Van Gundy said it showed maturity that some players had to pull back on parts of their game to let others shine.
“Guys hung in there and all did their job. We got contributions from a lot of people and we did a good job taking care of the basketball,” Van Gundy said. “Our ball movement has gotten better and we’re really unselfish. We’ve got some guys who have been willing to sacrifice.”