Auburn Hills — The Pistons’ slide cannot be blamed on Blake Griffin.
The power forward has a .474 field-goal percentage, a .500 3-point percentage and is averaging 24.8 points per game during the Piston’s four-game losing streak, including a 31-point performance on Wednesday night in a loss against the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters at practice on Thursday afternoon that increased aggressiveness is leading Griffin’s uptick in production with more shot attempts and fewer turnovers.
“He’s taking open shots without hesitating, which I think helps him shoot the ball better,” Van Gundy said.
Griffin’s decisive offensive actions have led to him starting the offense with more time on the shot clock instead of being a late-clock desperation option.
“You run into problems when you run down the shot clock,” Van Gundy said. “That will lead to mistakes, so going earlier in the clock I think has helped him too.”
Griffin’s fit in Detroit has been a hot topic considering the Pistons’ inability to win with him after sending several players and draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers in return for the 28-year old superstar.
Van Gundy’s not sure where Griffin’s comfort-level with his new team is at.
“I don’t think he’s still real comfortable, but you’d have to ask him that,” Van Gundy said.
Griffin’s connection with small forward Reggie Bullock is not in question.
The two combined on Wednesday night for several impressive plays. Griffin often found Bullock curling off screens to create open looks as Bullock shot 7-for-13 on field goals and 3-for-6 on 3s in his second 21-point performance in four games.
“I think he (Griffin) and Bullock play well together,” Van Gundy said. They’ve developed pretty good chemistry.”
Bullock’s solid performance has been out-shadowed by an open, missed 3-pointer off a Griffin dish on the Pistons’s second to last possession in overtime that would have given Detroit a three-point lead with seconds left.
“The 3 that Bullock missed, I thought that was a really, really good shot,” Van Gundy said. “The second defender came down, Blake (Griffin) put the pass on target, Reggie (Bullock) shot it without hesitation and on balance. “He’s one of the top ten 3-point shooters in the league, so you’re not going to get a much better shot than that. Reggie’s had a hell of a year. He’s played very well.”
Kennard’s plus side
Rookie Luke Kennard got the start on Wednesday at small forward and the 12th overall pick finished with nine points and six rebounds and was the only Piston starter to finish on positive rating, and emphatically so, ending plus-17.
Van Gundy thought his performance was up and down, especially when trying to deal with Toronto’s signature, physical defense.
“It was OK,” Van Gundy said. “He did some good things at both ends. Hopefully, he’ll play like that consistently. He’s got to play a little better when people get into him. I think he got bothered when people were pushing up on him. He was a little bit casual on the dribble.”
Kennard has played well when he sees significant minutes. Going into the Raptors game, in the 21 games he’d played at least 20 minutes, the Duke product has averaged 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists with a 49 percent field goal percentage and 45.3 percent from beyond the arc.
But in the last five minutes of regulation and overtime against the Raptors Kennard was glued to the bench, only playing about 50 seconds.
Van Gundy said it’s not a matter of trust.
“Oh, I have confidence in Luke (Kennard). He’s a guy who will make the right play,” Van Gundy said, specifically about Kennard’s crunch-time minutes.
Johnson not practicing
The Pistons ran a contracted practice on Wednesday, watching film, shooting around and then parts of the roster played a little one-on-one, but small forward Stanley Johnson didn’t take part in any of the physical parts of the session after missing Wednesday’s game with back spasms.
“He (Johnson) didn’t do anything today,” Van Gundy said.
In a pivotal moment in Wednesday’s game, Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan went coast to coast on the Pistons defense in 5.3 seconds and slammed it home to give Toronto a two-point lead with 4.6 seconds left in regulation.
Bullock, DeRozan’s primary defender, got tied up at midcourt in a screen set by Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry’s man, Pistons point guard Ish Smith, was stuck on Lowry, trying to nudge Lowry off Bullock so that Bullock could continue with DeRozan. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
In the postgame news conference, Van Gundy wouldn’t reveal what Detroit’s defensive strategy was on the drive, saying he didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus.
But during Wednesday’s practice, he was a little more talkative.
“We were supposed to be switching on the screens,” Van Gundy said, meaning Smith should have switched onto DeRozan.
Bulls at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/950 AM
Outlook: The Pistons (29-36) have lost 10 of their last 12 and trail the Miami Heat (34-31) by five games for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 17 games left. They lost to the Bulls, 107-105, in Chicago on Jan. 13.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer