Detroit — There were mid-range jumpers. And floaters in the lane. Then the 3-pointers and some misses. Plus some drives into the paint to draw defenders.
In 28 minutes, Reggie Jackson made another entry into his return from a severely sprained ankle that caused him to miss 37 games this season.
Jackson finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists in Monday night’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, in the most encouraging performance of his four games since returning from the injury. He shot 9-of-22 from the field, but from the eye test, looked to be closer to the healthy form that he showed in helping the Pistons to a 19-14 record before the injury.
It’s just a sampler platter to what coach Stan Van Gundy has hinted could be a glimmer of hope for the Pistons: a healthy trio of Jackson, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin as the future centerpieces of the franchise.
The final sands of the regular season are dropping through the hourglass and the Pistons’ chances to make the playoffs are unlikely, but monitoring that trio is worth Van Gundy’s attention.
“I know whether we see it over the last couple weeks or not, that the combination of Reggie, Blake and Andre — and (Reggie) Bullock and Luke (Kennard) coming on — that we have the pieces to be good,” Van Gundy said after the 112-106 victory. “We know that Reggie is a good player and we know what we’ve been like when we have had him.
“He was healthy his first full year here and we won 44 games and we didn’t have nearly have the talent around him then that we do now.”
That glimmer of hope could be the determining factor in whether Van Gundy returns for his final season in the dual role of team president and coach. He brought in Jackson as the engine to the pick-and-roll offense with Drummond and if team owner Tom Gores stays on course with the current staff, the late-season optimism with a healthy Jackson could be a big reason.
The Pistons (34-40) were 12-25 during Jackson’s injury, but with him back in the lineup, they’ve started to heat up — albeit against lesser competition. He’s a critical part of the Pistons’ success and having him healthy has been a boost.
“Last year, he had to come back in the middle of the season and this year he started off and we were 19-14,” Van Gundy said. “We know — it’s been demonstrated. He’s been hurt; if we can keep him healthy, we have a chance to be really good.”
A bigger test could come Thursday, when the Pistons face the Washington Wizards at Little Caesars Arena. As Jackson gets in better condition and gets more minutes, he’ll likely look more like his healthy form.
“He just looked comfortable; he’s starting to get his wind back,” Griffin said. “There’s literally no substitute for basketball conditioning and basketball shape, so just playing the game and practicing has helped him a lot.
“He looks very in control — and that’s a good sign.”
Trying to overcome their deficit, the Lakers tried to foul Drummond intentionally and put him on the free-throw line to try to rattle him. That ploy doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Drummond sank all four free throws and the Lakers didn’t foul him again.
“He just wanted to shoot the free throws and he stepped up and made four in a row and did a great job on it,” Van Gundy said.
After shooting 38 percent last season, Drummond has improved immensely, up to 61 percent this year.
Van Gundy also marveled at a highlight-reel block by Drummond on the Lakers’ Julius Randle, which helped preserve the victory in the final minutes. He’s remarked on how improved Drummond is in his defensive engagement, but he was wowed by the block.
“That play on Randle, that’s an incredible play,” he said. “There aren’t many guys in the league who are going to make that play.”