Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy discusses the win over the Thunder. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Oklahoma City — The Pistons have become the comeback crew, with six victories after overcoming a double-digit deficit this season. It’s been one of the hallmarks of their good start to the first quarter of the season.
It’s certainly not a sustainable strategy and on the last trip coach Stan Van Gundy saw the perils, with close losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers after the Pistons dug a hole. Around the league, the Pistons have become known as a fourth-quarter team, for the knack of making a run toward the end of the game.
Against the Pacers, it was a reversal, as they had a comfortable 22-point lead but squandered it in the final minutes, managing to score just one basket in the closing minutes. Van Gundy got questions about blowing the lead, but brushed off the criticism, citing the pace of the game and the explosion of 3-point shooting, which has made the old thought process about big leads almost obsolete.
“That whole lead thing is just the NBA now,” Van Gundy said Friday before the matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “While I was talking about that in the press conference (the Thunder were) giving up the big lead here and losing to San Antonio. Miami was up 25 the same night and hung on to win by one.
“That’s the NBA with the 3-point shot. People have to change their thinking; it’s not the same game. Leads don’t mean as much; it’s a 48-minute game and you just play.”
That’s where the Pistons have struggled this season: getting off to good starts with their starting unit and being able to maintain that throughout the first half and the end of the game. It’s come in spurts, but hasn’t been sustained for the duration.
The Thunder have been something of an enigma in holding on to their leads as well. They allow the second-fewest points in the league (98.1) and with a point differential of plus-5.4, they rank fifth in the league.
“They’ve lost close games and blown people out. They’ve been good and will continue to get better,” Van Gundy said. “If you look at the point differential instead of the standings, you understand they’re one of the best four or five teams in the league.”
Roll of Thunder
Much of the Thunder’s success is based on their good starts, especially when they’re able to have measured contributions from Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
It’s a matter of getting a good start, as they did against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors in their last win on Wednesday, and staggering the bench, such that they can use their Big Three effectively and strategically rest while not having all three on the bench at the same time.
The additions of Anthony and George have bolstered their standing, even with Westbrook as the reigning most valuable player. It’s taken a while for them to get jelled, but they’re starting to show signs they’ll be a formidable opponent in the Western Conference, with their big win over the Warriors.
“I’d be shocked if this team wasn’t a contender at the end of the year,” Van Gundy said Friday morning. “They can play with Houston or Golden State; they can play with anybody.”
Making the bold moves to get George and Anthony have made them harder to guard, as well.
“You can’t key as much on one guy — not that keying on him did a lot of good for anybody last year — but they have two other perennial All-Stars who are great scorers and shooters,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve developed very quickly into one of the best defensive teams in this league.
“They force a lot of turnovers, leading the league in steals. They don’t give up many layups; they are long and active and tough to move the ball against. You have to continue with ball movement and try to have patience and break them down. It’s not going to be one pass to a shot.”