Newly acquired forward talks about his performance and playing with his new teammates in Thursday's 104-102 win over the Grizzlies. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — The atmosphere seemed to be a reprise from opening night at Little Caesars Arena: T-shirts adorning every seat, team owner Tom Gores sitting at center court, a larger-than-normal crowd, and anticipation in the air for Blake Griffin’s Pistons debut.
The first quarter was a good appetizer as the Pistons provided the entrée and added the fourth-quarter dessert, surging to a late lead and holding on for a 104-102 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
It’s the second straight win for the Pistons (24-26), who are turning things around after their eight-game losing skid with a boost from Griffin, who drew oohs and aahs from the fans from the player introduction throughout much of the first quarter whenever he touched the ball.
Griffin finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Andre Drummond had 14 points and 15 rebounds, as all five Pistons starters scored in double figures.
Griffin was sterling, showing his versatility, both inside and on the perimeter. He also showed an ability to get to the free-throw line, hitting 11-of-13 and providing a different array of moves and options than the Pistons have had this season.
Coach Stan Van Gundy lamented having only an hour and 15 minutes in shootaround Thursday morning to work with Griffin. They seemed to make the most of that time, getting a couple plays they could install and utilize.
“I wanted to just come out and play hard, being very limited in my knowledge of our offense,” Griffin said. “I thought Coach Van Gundy did a great job of just putting in five things that we could go to, and we ran them to death, but they worked and everybody just played hard.”
Rod Beard of The Detroit News breaks down Detroit's 104-102 victory over Memphis in its first game since acquiring all-star forward Blake Griffin. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Griffin was the star for the first three quarters, but Anthony Tolliver helped save the game for the Pistons. He hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:48 left for a 101-100 lead and then added two clutch free throws with 6.2 seconds left to give the Pistons enough cushion to take the win.
The final seconds came down to free throws. Wayne Selden was fouled and made two free throws with 2.6 seconds left and Reggie Bullock split a pair of free throws for the final margin.
Marc Gasol had 19 points and 14 rebounds and Andrew Harrison had 18 points and eight assists for the Grizzlies (18-33).
Griffin, though, was the star attraction from the beginning, drawing raves from Drummond.
“It’s going to be fun. Playing with a guy who’s a willing passer and has the style of game he has, we complement each other very well,” Drummond said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and getting better and better playing with him.”
The Pistons led, 82-76, heading into the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies responded with a 13-2 run, with former Michigan State standout Deyonta Davis (12 points) getting a pair of baskets and James Ennis III and Dillon Brooks hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to punctuate the streak.
Drummond halted the run with a hook and after Harrison hit a jumper, Drummond scored on another drive and Dwight Buycks (13 points) hit a pair of free throws to get the Pistons within 91-90.
The Pistons got two straight baskets from Drummond, including an emphatic dunk with 5:54 left, to tie it at 94. After a Gasol fadeaway, Ish Smith (12 points) scored on a drive and Griffin added a pair of free throws for a two-point margin.
Pistons coach talks about his newly acquired forward's performance in Thursday's 104-102 win over the Grizzlies. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Gasol made two free throws and Harrison converted a pair of free throws, putting the Grizzlies ahead, 100-98, with 2:09 left, but Tolliver hit a big 3-pointer — on an assist from Griffin — to put the Pistons ahead by one with 1:48 left.
Griffin did have one snafu in his debut, forgetting his jersey and not being able to start the third quarter.
“I’m just going to blame it on the new environment and my track record; I’ve never done that before,” Griffin said. “I went to take my shirt off and I knew something didn’t feel right. I pulled it off and I saw I only had my undershirt on. I just needed Anthony Tolliver to get a stop for me.”
Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ win:
■ Stanley Johnson looked comfortable again, exploding for 12 points in the third quarter and keeping the Pistons close. He had an array of drives and pull-up jumpers, including a pair of 3-pointers, to build on two nice games against the Cavaliers in the past week.
■ Pistons owner Tom Gores wasn’t in attendance for Wednesday’s introductory press conference for Blake Griffin, but flew from Los Angeles to see his first game as a Piston. He threw T-shirts and interacted with the crowd, soaking in the atmosphere.
■ Buycks was aggressive as well, looking to settle into the role as backup point guard. He got to the free-throw line and was 4-for-8 from the field with 5 of 6 free throws. Langston Galloway looks to be more of a shooting option among the reserves, so Buycks could get the lion’s share of minutes for now.