Pistons on guard against letdown vs. Suns

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Reggie Jackson

Boston — It’s just one win. It counts the same as the victory over the Sacramento Kings or the Atlanta Hawks, who have 10 wins combined this season.

In the jubilant locker room Monday night, the Pistons seemed to get a bigger boost from their 118-108 victory over the Boston Celtics — as if, somehow, it counted for more than just one.

Psychologically, maybe it did.

It’s just like the road wins over the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves and last week against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were projected to be among the top teams in the West.

“This is a huge thing for us. Last year, we struggled on the road,” said Tobias Harris, who had 31 points. “It’s our mentality coming into these games, but on top of that, it’s important for us to understand that we have to get up for every game, not just the top teams.”

The Pistons (13-6) are handling their business much the way that good teams do: they’re 8-5 against teams with records of .500 or better; they’re 5-1 versus teams with losing records.

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In the aftermath of their best win this season, the tendency to let up a little looms, especially with the Phoenix Suns, who are languishing in the dregs of the Western Conference, visiting Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night. That’s where coach Stan Van Gundy is looking for another strong performance and the ability to build off the momentum they Pistons have created with their two-game streak.

The Pistons have to look no further than their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which came on the heels of their momentous win over the Warriors.

“We have to come out and play every night. We’ve certainly had enough lessons of that to know that,” Van Gundy said Tuesday.

“The other team’s record hasn’t really mattered for us very much; it’s all been about the way we played … “We know that going in, so we’ll find out if we’re smart enough and mature enough to understand that.”

In their marquee matchup, the Pistons showed the level to which they’re capable of playing. The key was getting a consistent effort on both ends of the court, while letting Avery Bradley guard the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving and let the rest of the offense get comfortable and making 52 percent of their shots.

For one night, at least, they stood toe-to-toe, which can help build confidence during their tough stretch of games.

“For us as a team, we knew how big it was, with No. 1 versus 2 for right now,” guard Ish Smith said. “Any time you play the top team, as hot as they’re playing, and get a win, it’s huge for us.

“We’ve been playing like this all year, moving the ball and playing with great pace. We knew with them being the No. 1 defense, it was a must that we play with that kind of pace and energy in transition when we got stops.”

Jackson’s facilitating

Beyond the storylines of Bradley’s return to Boston and Andre Drummond’s big night, Reggie Jackson also had a very good night as a facilitator, triggering the Pistons’ offense. As he has much of the season, Jackson probed and attacked when needed but also found a sweet spot of scoring and distributing, while Harris was in an offensive hot zone.

That versatility shines through when the Pistons are clicking on offense, as they did with 118 points, their second-highest total of the season.

“We just need him on to attack and make plays on the offensive end. The more he’s attacking when he gets his opportunities, the better off we are,” Van Gundy said.

“The challenge — and it’s not easy for him — is we’re more equal-opportunity on offense. Before, we were so heavy on pick-and-roll with him that he could get into a rhythm … He’s not getting 30 pick-and-rolls like he used to get; he’s made a sacrifice in that regard. It was really uncomfortable for him early in the year and he’s playing well within it now. Last night was the most he’s attacked on his opportunities.”