Detroit — If the Pistons are going to have success with their present roster, this season or next, they’ll need many more games like Saturday’s against the Chicago Bulls.
The Pistons (33-40) rode hot shooting, going 16-of-42 on 3-pointers, to bury the Bulls, 117-95, at Little Caesars Arena. Detroit’s 13 3-pointers in the first half marked a franchise record.
“It was a good night,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The ball moved, so we got good shots. There wasn’t a lot of just jacking the ball.”
Detroit was led by forward Anthony Tolliver, who had 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 from beyond the arc. It was Tolliver’s season-high in points and a career-high in 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds.
“When he shot the running sideways floater, I knew it was going to be a good night for him,” Blake Griffin said of Tolliver’s performance. “He was unbelievable. We know on any given night he can go off like that.”
Former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine led the Bulls (24-49) with 18 points with 4-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers. He added three rebounds and three assists.
“When you’re warming up, you’re seeing all of these Michigan State hoodies,” Valentine said. “You see certain fans and people that you used to see at the Michigan State games, and it feels good to be back home.”
Despite Tolliver’s 25, the Pistons were remarkably balanced in their scoring. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson each scored 15, Reggie Bullock had 14, and James Ennis and Luke Kennard each added 13. Ish Smith had 12 points and Griffin 10.
Jackson was playing his third game back after missing 37 games with a Grade-3 right-ankle sprain suffered in December, and it was his best game since his return. He started at point guard went 5-of-10 from the field and hit two 3-pointers with three rebounds and an assist. His shooting stroke seemed in rhythm, and at times, especially in the fourth quarter, his signature bursting drives toward the rack were resulting in quality opportunities.
“I had a little more wind,” said Jackson, who played 21:57. “I’m feeling good, getting confident. I’m just trying to take what the defense gives me. I’m feeling better each game.”
Jackson had several physical drives to the basket in the fourth quarter that resulted in him being knocked to the floor a couple times.
“I never want to hit the ground, but it gives me more confidence every time I bounce back up.” Jackson said.
“I was actually happier in the second half to see him go to the basket,” Van Gundy said. “Because he hadn’t been doing that in the first two games. First two games he only had one of his twenty shots in the restricted area, and then tonight he went to the basket three or four times. That was a real good thing for me to see.”
The Pistons aren’t totally out of the playoff race, but postseason basketball in Detroit is still highly unlikely. The Pistons are now 5 1/2 games back of the Milwaukee Bucks, who were idle on Saturday, with nine games left.
There may not be much to be gleaned from this game about how good this Pistons team can be next year. The Bulls were playing their fifth game in eight days and were on the second night of a back-to-back. The Pistons are 11-2 this season when playing against a team that played the day before.
“You have to find a way to fight through the fatigue and muster up some energy,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Defensively, we let them get comfortable right away. They made 3s on us in the first quarter, and we were just a half-second late. That’s all it takes in this league.”
The Pistons opened a 14-point lead in the first quarter with the help of hot shooting. They hit 56 percent from the field and 53.3 percent on 3-pointers to gain the early advantage over the Bulls.
Jackson, Griffin and Drummond played together for five minutes to start the game and looked good doing it.
“It felt good,” Jackson said about playing on the court with Griffin and Drummond at the same time. “I think we had a good game against the Suns. It was a little up and down with our minutes and chemistry the second game. Third game tonight felt good. I wish we had a longer season, but within these games we’re going to try to find a way to build chemistry.”
Griffin was complimentary of Drummond’s game, especially his four blocks and assists.
“Guys come in [the league] and think points and rebounds, but I think he’s realized his (Drummond's) worth to the team goes far beyond points and rebounds,” Griffin said. “Just his presence alone, his coming over from the weak side to help. All those things are huge, but he’s settled into a place where he controls the game.”
“I think he’s starting to take pride in it,” Van Gundy said of Drummond’s blocks. “I think he’s enjoying it. I’ve given him a goal for a while to lead the league in blocked shots and rebounds in a season. It’s one of the most difficult things to do. Andre’s got the quickness and timing to be able to do it.”
Detroit took a 19-point lead into the locker room at halftime and mostly kept pace with the Bulls in the second half. Chicago pushed the basketball up-court often in the second half, leading to some fast-break points that prompted Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy to take a couple timeouts.
“In the second half, we weren’t as good. We just didn’t move. I think maybe the trip caught up with us,” Van Gundy said, referring to the two-week road trip the Pistons just got back from. “We looked tired in the second half.”
Things got a little testy in the third quarter when the Bulls’ David Nwaba was called for a flagrant foul when he shoved Drummond as Drummond was headed for the basket. Drummond got up quickly and exchanged words with a couple Bulls players.
Stanley Johnson left the game at halftime with a right gluteal strain and did not return. He finished with no points and three rebounds.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.