Reggie Jackson on the Pistons' comeback win over the Thunder. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Oklahoma City — It’s becoming old hat for the Pistons. A huge deficit is no longer the end of the road; it’s becoming a foreshadow of a strong, second-half comeback.
The Pistons did it again, for the seventh time this season, digging a double-digit deficit, only to rally for a victory. This time, it came against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a 99-98 victory before a sellout crowd on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Andre Drummond had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Ish Smith added 15 points and Tobias Harris 13 points and seven rebounds for the Pistons (12-6), who trailed by 15 early in the third quarter.
Like they’ve done so many times this year, the Pistons didn’t let the deficit get them down.
“We’re just finding a way. It’s not pretty, but we’re just playing and trusting the game. The games will tell us what to do,” said Jackson, who had 12 points. “That’s something we’re matured in, letting the game tell us what to do and being aggressive. We’re not going to force the game, but playing basketball the right way — and it’s been working out.”
Avery Bradley struggled in the first half, but hit a pair of baskets in the final 4 minutes and Jackson added two free throws with 34 seconds left, helping the Pistons hold on.
Russell Westbrook had a chance to win it, but his last-second 3-pointer rimmed out. Westbrook finished with his sixth triple-double of the season, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for the Thunder (8-10), who were coming off their best win of the season, over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy discusses the win over the Thunder. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
The Pistons were resilient, using strong defense — including Stanley Johnson on Paul George — to whittle the lead in the third quarter. They took their first lead, 81-79, after a transition basket by Ish Smith (15 points) with 10:41 left. That followed a pair of 3-pointers by Langston Galloway to start the period.
In the final 11 minutes, the Thunder’s Big Three of Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, who combined for 63 points, scored all but three points. Andre Roberson hit a 3-pointer with 46.7 seconds remaining, but Jackson responded with his two free throws, to push the lead back to three.
“The second half, the whole way, we played well defensively. They made a lot of pull-ups over the top and we didn’t give them the easy buckets we’d given them in the first half,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The big thing at halftime was our rebounding. It was 14-0 second-chance points in the first half and when you’re down 10, that’s the game — and that’s a controllable thing for us.
“We fought a lot harder in the second half. We had 14 turnovers in the second half, so it’s not like we played great, but we fought really hard and that’s what ended up getting us a win.”
Stanley Johnson talks about his tough defensive assignment in the Pistons' win over the Thunder. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Smith was the catalyst, with another drive and score, then a 3-pointer by rookie Luke Kennard pushed the Pistons to their largest lead, 88-84, at the 6:39 mark. Westbrook answered with a drive and Drummond had six points in the fourth quarter, including baskets on back-to-back possessions, to extend the lead to four with 5:04 left.
Bradley had two more clutch shots — a baseline drive and lay-in — plus a corner 3-pointer, to get the lead to 97-93 with 2:01 remaining, before Roberson’s 3-pointer.
George (16 points) started to get hot in the fourth quarter, with two straight baskets, but Johnson turned up the defense.
“They’re either going to make or miss the shots. It is what it is. I’m just there in front of them, trying to make their lives a little harder,” Johnson said. “If I played the same way, could he have had 40? Yes.”
Westbrook, who had had six points in the fourth, scored on a quick drive to get within one. Jackson missed the shot on their end, and the Thunder had a last shot with five seconds remaining, but couldn’t connect.
The Thunder led, 59-49, at halftime, with 16 points and eight assists from Westbrook. Smith was the only Pistons player in double figures, with 11.
Here are some observations from the matchup:
■Thunder forward Paul George picked up his third foul with 11:20 left in the second quarter. He played just 9 minutes in the first half and had two points and a rebound, but Jerami Grant picked up the slack, with four points in 6 minutes.
■The Pistons traditionally have been one of the league’s best rebounding teams, but ranked just 19th (42.8) entering Friday’s matchup. They had their difficulties against the Thunder — who ranked 21st (42.4) — and managed just 13 rebounds. Part of it was because the Thunder shot 52 percent from the field (25-of-48) and grabbed seven offensive rebounds, to the Pistons’ two. Drummond, who leads the league in rebounding, had just two in the first half.
■Jackson was greeted with boos in the player introductions and the Oklahoma City fans let him hear them for most of the game. On free throws, he also got some boos and after an airball, they let their feelings be known. Jackson started his career with the Thunder and played three-plus seasons in the league, after being drafted 24th overall by Oklahoma City in 2011.
■Smith had his shooting touch early, going 5-of-7 from the field for 11 points in the first half. Smith found some room inside to score but punctuated the first quarter with a 56-foot heave from the other 3-point line to beat the buzzer.
■Thunder forward Paul George picked up his third foul with 11:20 left in the second quarter. He played just nine minutes in the first half and had two points and a rebound, but Jerami Grant picked up the slack, with four points in six minutes.