Smith solid, bench struggles in Pistons' loss to Magic
Orlando, Fla. — It never was going to be a simple switch of point guards and everything was going to be all right for the Pistons.
With Reggie Jackson on the shelf for at least the next 6-8 weeks because of his severely sprained right ankle suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers, Ish Smith was able to step into the starting lineup and be effective.
But Smith may have left a bigger void in the reserve group, which went 3-for-22 from the field with Langston Galloway at the controls.
The starters were uninspired in the first quarter and the bench was ineffective throughout the game, as the Pistons fell to the Orlando Magic, 102-89, on Thursday night at Amway Center. It’s the second straight dud loss on the road for the Pistons (19-15), while the Magic (12-24) snapped their nine-game losing streak.
“It’s a game we should have won. We can look back on it at the end of the year and be upset because it’s a game we needed to have,” said Tobias Harris, who had 21 points. “Those are the games we need to come out with a better mindset.
“They lost nine straight and we have to respect that they would come out and try to break their streak.”
Smith finished with a season-high 18 points, with seven rebounds and five assists in his first start of the season and Andre Drummond added 17 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. Smith, though, looked tentative in the opening quarter, looking to get others in the starting group involved.
The starters struggled on defense as well, letting the Magic dominate in the paint and get easy shots, which led to an early timeout in the first two minutes.
“We weren’t ready to play at the beginning. The starting lineup was not prepared to play and didn’t bring anything to the game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Offensively, we got nothing off our bench — 3-for-22 is not going to get it done.
“We don’t need everybody to have great nights but we can’t have that many guys have that bad a night and think we’re going to get wins.”
In the third quarter, the Magic started with a 12-5 spurt, but the Pistons rattled off 12 straight, with six points from Smith and four from Drummond. Orlando finished the period with a 15-6 run, regaining the momentum with nine straight points from backup center Marreese Speights (16 points).
The Magic led, 77-70, entering the fourth quarter, and opened with three consecutive 3-pointers by Speights, D.J. Augustin and Arron Afflalo, pushing the lead to 13.
The Pistons answered, with a jumper by Stanley Johnson and a 3-pointer by Harris. The Magic didn’t let the Pistons get close down the stretch, with Elfrid Payton (19 points) answering the mini-run with a drive and basket.
Harris scored eight straight Pistons points in the flurry but Evan Fournier (17 points) hit a 3-pointer in the midst of it, with a drive by Payton and a dunk by Bismack Biyombo (12 points, 13 rebounds).
The shifts in the rotation seemed to jumble things for the Pistons bench, which never seemed to get going. The Magic reserves outscored the Pistons, 33-12, with Johnson scoring eight of those points off the bench.
Galloway played backup point guard and managed just three points on 1-for-9 shooting in 16 minutes. Smith played a season-high 32 minutes and got the starters inspired in the third quarter, when the deficit reached double digits.
Here are some other observations from the loss:
■ Galloway shot 1-of-9 from the field but didn’t seem comfortable in a role of having to distribute to the reserve group. He had just one assist and one turnover. It’s going to take some time for him to get accustomed to the new role, but Van Gundy acknowledged there was a mechanical issue with Galloway’s shot that they’ll look at fixing.
■ Backup center Eric Moreland entered the game ranked seventh in the NBA in charges taken. It’s an unlikely statistical category for a 6-foot-10 big man to have, but he’s done a good job of sliding over and preventing drivers from having their way in the lane. He took another in the first half.
■ Reggie Bullock hit back-to-back 3-pointers and assisted on an alley-oop to Drummond in the first half, helping provide a spark. Bullock finished with 13 points and three assists and continues to impress in the starting lineup, where he can play off some of the other action from varied skill sets of Drummond and the wings.
■ The Magic again played with a mismatch lineup, getting Aaron Gordon (14 points, seven rebounds) back in the starting group with Fournier, but still missing center Nikola Vucevic to injury. They started 8-3 but then went 3-21 after they were decimated by injuries.