Beard: Griffin trade energizes Pistons, fan base
What a difference a week makes.
Seven days ago, life was no crystal stair for the Pistons, coming off a double-digit loss at Cleveland.
Enter Blake Griffin. Enter a frenzied fan base. Enter playoff hope.
The past week has brought a renewed optimism to the Pistons (25-26), with a three-game winning streak, including a bounce-back win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday — without departing Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley and before Griffin was cleared to play — and nail-biting thrillers against the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat.
A quick glance shows the Pistons are back in the playoff picture, just a game from passing the Philadelphia 76ers for the final spot in the East, and within five games of the Washington Wizards for fifth place.
Griffin, averaging 20 points in his two games, has joined with Andre Drummond to form one of the most feared frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. They’re halfway through their six-game home stand, which concludes Friday with an intriguing matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, Griffin’s former team. ESPN has picked up the game.
The Griffin trade has provided a noticeable boost, including an announced crowd of 18,737 on Saturday night.
“This has been the most engaged they’ve been, since Blake has gotten here,” forward Stanley Jonson said of the fan base. “That helps us a ton because we have a lot of guys playing a lot of minutes because guys are down. You hear that crowd going and then the defensive pressure gets stops and lay-ups.”
The Pistons now have their Big Two under contract for the long term, but fans this week were speculating on the odds of adding another big piece before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. General manager Jeff Bower will continue working the phones to try to find something, but it’s not likely.
The Pistons gave up their moveable pieces in the Griffin trade, and there’s not much left to offer a team.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other observations from the past week:
■ Surging Stanley: Johnson had a career-high 26 points against the Cavs and is averaging 16.8 points and six rebounds his last four games. He’s shown the flashes and open-court athleticism that the Pistons saw in the 2015 draft. He has fit in well in the starting lineup, finishing out the frontcourt with Drummond and Griffin.
The big question mark is shooting guard. Reggie Bullock — at a very reasonable contract of $2.5 million — has been a very good fill-in, with 12 points per game since joining the starting lineup. The Pistons are looking to upgrade, but it’s unlikely that they can find another big-name player to fill out the starting lineup. They were rumored to be in for the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker, but no longer have the trade chips to get him.
They may have to stand pat with what they have, which could be enough to get them to the postseason — and maybe a decent showing in a first-round series — to give them momentum for the future.
■ Staying on guard: With two wing players going to the Clippers, the Pistons struggled to find enough guards for the rotation on Saturday. Anthony Tolliver had to play some small forward and Langston Galloway was the only guard off the bench, with Luke Kennard (foot) and Dwight Buycks (illness) both out. If it continues, look for a call-up for Kay Felder or Reggie Hearn from the Grand Rapids Drive.
■ Not just Blake: The trade also brought two big men, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed, to the Pistons. It appears that Van Gundy will want to take a look at Reed as a potential backup center. Against some smaller opposing centers, Griffin also could play center, an appealing option, given his versatility. Johnson hasn’t played yet, but at 6-foot-10, he has potential to help out.
■ Don’t forget Galloway: Although Galloway has struggled in his role as a third point guard, he’s still be shooting the ball well. He had 13 points Saturday and showed that he can be viable as another guard behind Bullock and Kennard. Fans lament his $7-million deal, but there will be times that his skill set is useful.
■ Old friends: The Pistons will get a look at their former teammates on Friday, when the Clippers come to town. Harris had 24 points in his Clippers debut, a win over the Chicago Bulls. Bradley had eight points on 4-of-9 shooting and Boban Marjanovic didn’t play.
Trail Blazers at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD, NBA/97.1
Outlook: The Blazers (29-24) finish a grueling road trip of three games in four nights having lost the first two and face the Pistons (25-26) on a back-to-back. ... Damian Lillard averages 25.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds for the Trail Blazers.