Detroit — The Pistons were coming off a spirited win over the Bucks Friday night and were looking to finish their third set of back-to-backs in two weeks against a young Sacramento Kings team that had lost five straight and were 1-7 on the season.
Trap game right?
“I don’t believe in trap games,” coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game.
He believes only in consistent focus and effort.
The Pistons provided just enough of each Saturday night.
Using a 14-3 run at the end of the third quarter, the Pistons broke open a two-point game and proceeded to deliver the Kings’ sixth straight loss, 108-99, at Little Caesars Arena.
“It was just a game we had to grind out,” Van Gundy said. “We weren’t at our best. The first half we didn’t play at a really high energy level. But our guys wanted to win and they fought really, really hard.”
The Pistons have now won the second game of all three back-to-backs this season and, at 7-3, are off to their best 10-game start since the 2008-2009 season.
“We are off to a good start, but it’s definitely early,” said forward Tobias Harris, who scored 10 of his 20 points in the third quarter. “We’ve been saying all along that it’s about consistency, building consistency and bringing that effort every single night.
“But this (start) just solidifies our identity as a team.”
That identity is of a scrappy underdog, a team that is willing to fight to gain respect in a league that so far isn’t taking them very seriously.
“Playing all these back-to-back games, everybody was still banged up from the night before,” said center Andre Drummond, who posted his seventh double-double (16 points and 19 rebounds). “But this was a game we needed and it was a game we wanted, and we went out and played the way we were supposed to.”
Ten games is a small sample size, surely, and nobody in the Pistons locker room is getting fitted for rings just yet. In fact, most were keeping the 7-3 start in perspective.
“It just says we’re off to a good start,” said Anthony Tolliver, who scored 10 points off the bench. “It’s part of 82 games. We’ve got to keep doing it. Just one game at a time and don’t get ahead of ourselves. Don’t get too confident.
“But at the same time, use the confidence we’ve got knowing whoever we play against, we got a chance. We can beat anybody. Right now, that’s how we feel.”
They will have to play better defense than they did Saturday night to beat the elite teams in the league. The Kings starters made 27 of 41 shots and collectively, the Kings shot 52.6 percent.
“Sacramento played extremely well,” Van Gundy said. “We had a hard time stopping them, especially their starters. Their ball movement and the way they played is how we want to play.”
Veteran Zach Randolph (Michigan State) scored 19 points to lead the Kings. Bogdan Bogdanovic made six of seven shots and scored 14.
“Our defense wasn’t very good, but we grinded it out and did what we had to do to get the win,” Van Gundy said. “That’s the important thing.”
Shooting guard Avery Bradley, for the second straight night, led the offense. After scoring 23 points against the Bucks, he came back with 24, hitting 10 of 15 shots (3 of 6 beyond the arc). He sealed the deal with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 2:39.
“I’ve said it before, he’s changed the demeanor of our team,” Van Gundy said. “I give him a good part of the credit. But having Stanley (Johnson) in the starting lineup has helped that, too.”
Johnson, who was a plus-16 in less than 23 minutes of playing time, left in the third quarter with a sore right hip flexor. He is listed as day to day.
Ish Smith made sure the Pistons weren’t going to fade in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 10 points to keep the Kings at bay.
“He made some big plays, hit some layups and that really took the pressure off us,” Harris said. “We were able to withstand their run.”
Harris was effective, inside and outside. He hit 7 of 14 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers.
“I kind of started off with the three-ball and then that opened up some of the drives for me,” he said. “The biggest thing is reading the defense. If the three is there, I’ve got to take it.”
It was his lay-up and 3-pointer that triggered the pivotal run at the end of the third.
“Winning makes everything a little easier,” Tolliver said. “If you don’t play well and you win, you still feel good about it. If you are going through stuff off the court and you’re winning, it makes it a little easier to get through.
“When you are losing, it makes everything a little harder. We’re having a lot of fun right now because we are winning and because we are playing together and doing things the right way.”