Rod Beard breaks down the Pistons victory over the Wizards. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — The season and the Pistons’ playoff hopes look to be hanging by a thin thread. After a lackluster beginning to the month, they’ve been stitching together some wins and making the last few weeks of the regular season interesting.
At least for now.
Even without Blake Griffin, who was a late scratch because of a bruised right ankle, the Pistons played tough and kept their slim playoff hopes alive.
With a 32-17 scoring margin in the third quarter, the Pistons moved ahead to stay, pushing to a 103-92 victory over the Washington Wizards on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena. The Pistons (35-40) won for the fifth time in the last six games and have just two more games against teams with winning records in their final seven.
Andre Drummond had 24 points, 23 rebounds and four assists, for his league-leading seventh 20-20 game of the season — the 20th of his career. Reggie Bullock and and Anthony Tolliver each added 14 points for the Pistons, who have a weekend back-to-back in New York against the Knicks and Nets.
With the win, the Pistons are 4 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East, with seven games left.
It might be too little, too late. Might be.
But even if so, Drummond is playing some of his best basketball of the season, but not just on the offensive end.
Stan Van Gundy talks about the Pistons victory over the Wizards. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
“Outstanding. He was really, really good tonight. Even besides the 24 (points) and 23 (rebounds) — which is pretty incredible,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He was really active defensively. One of his best games of the year; he was really, really good.”
The Pistons had struggled in third quarters against the Wizards this season but dominated with a 15-point margin this time.
After a 49-49 tie at halftime, the Pistons surged, with a 3-pointer by Stanley Johnson (nine points and five rebounds) and a three-point play by Drummond. The Wizards’ Bradley Beal (15 points, five rebounds) answered with a 3-pointer before another basket by Drummond, for a 65-58 lead at the 5:53 mark.
Kelly Oubre (14 points) hit a jumper and Markieff Morris (11 points) hit back-to-back baskets to trim the lead to three, but the Pistons finished the last 4:29 of the period on a 16-4 run for an 81-66 margin heading to the fourth quarter.
That turnaround after halftime was critical for the Pistons to get a lead on the Wizards, who won the first three meetings this season, and continuing their streak.
“Yes, we were definitely aware of (the third-quarter struggles),” Bullock said. “It was something that we’ve been preparing for all day at shoot-around and earlier in the morning, knowing that this was pretty much a team that owned us for the last two or three years.
“We just had to come out and just compete with them.”
The Wizards (41-34) made another push, starting the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run, with a pair of baskets by Oubre. They got within 91-87 at the 5:15 mark after a 10-4 spurt with a reverse by Tomas Satoransky (11 points), but the Pistons found another answer, with six straight points, with a lay-in by Bullock and back-to-back baskets by Reggie Jackson (13 points and eight assists) to push the lead back to double digits.
The Pistons’ defense in the third quarter made a difference as well, pressuring the Wizards into eight turnovers.
“We were just turning the ball over and we didn’t get back on defense and then we missed a bunch of shots,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Our 3-point shooting tonight was not like us. We just couldn’t make any shots in that third quarter.”
Here are some other observations from the Pistons win:
■Tolliver started in place of Griffin and scored seven points in the second quarter. He provided a different presence on the perimeter, but didn’t make any 3-pointers in the first half, spending more time moving away from the ball and trying to get into the paint for mismatches.
■Drummond shined on the offensive end and excelled defensively, moving well on switches, hedging on screens and making the right switches. He’s had his difficulties guarding the Wizards’ Marcin Gortat in the past, but did well defensively Thursday and helping on others.
■Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. sustained a right ankle sprain in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. The Wizards already were without the injured John Wall but had another scare when Beal collided with Henry Ellenson in the third quarter. Beal was down for a minute but returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
■The Wizards tried intentionally fouling Drummond in the final minutes to put him on the free-throw line. Drummond made all four free throws in the same situation on Monday against the Lakers — and came through with 2-of-4 on Thursday.
■Henry Ellenson got some prime playing time as the backup power forward with Griffin out. Ellenson played well, with nine points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, with an array of moves, including a 3-pointer and some scores inside the paint.