New York — Down the stretch in the fourth quarter against the Celtics, the Pistons were trying to mount a comeback, slicing the deficit to single digits.
Ish Smith committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions. Stanley Johnson later lost the ball out of bounds and Blake Griffin made a bad pass. The Pistons closed within four and had a chance to get closer, before Johnson traveled, for his sixth turnover of the game.
It’s part of the growing process for the Pistons in coach Dwane Casey’s new offensive system, which is predicated more on reading-and-reacting rather than set plays, as it had been in previous years. Some of that is building chemistry within a faster pace — which is going to generate more turnovers.
Those helped sink the Pistons’ chances in the final minutes, with some players frustrated with themselves for making so many errors in a close game.
“I just gave them the ball. I’m not sure how many turnovers I had in that third quarter before I got subbed out,” Johnson said. “I’m way too good to be giving the ball away like that. I should score the ball; I’m already at the rim and just trying to make some plays for my teammates.
“I’ve been listening to the coaches telling me to be aggressive … and I keep continuing to pass the ball to people who are not open.”
Johnson, ever prideful, is looking to find consistency and smooth air in his development. In his fourth season, he’s still trying to find his level and put together good offensive and defensive performances in the same game.
It’s at times frustrating, but Casey is confident in Johnson’s defensive abilities and sees that the rest will come along.
“That’s the main thing with him: just a balance and using his body, feet first and chest to defend more than his hands,” Casey said Wednesday before the matchup against the Nets. “He’s got great feet and strength in his upper body.”
Johnson had nine points, five rebounds and four assists but the five fouls and six turnovers sully the stat line and show the need for balance. While Casey sees the upside, there’s still more than Johnson can do to reach his goals.
That includes finding the fine line between his emotional side — such as when he picked up three fouls in a short spurt in the third quarter. Even that is tough to break down.
“It’s having a mental toughness and being smart. I don’t want to take a guy’s passion or emotion out of the game,” Casey said. “You have to be smart and adjust to the way the officials are calling it. They’re not going to change it. Just add basketball intellect into it is the most important thing.”
The Pistons got a look at Caris LeVert (Michigan) for the second time in the first seven games of the season. LeVert is putting together a season worthy of the NBA’s most improved player, with 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
His scoring is improved 6.8 points and in his third season and he’s looking like he’s fitting in with some key growth in the offseason.
“I definitely think it’s that third year. Physically, he’s taken another jump; he’s gotten stronger and has a better change of pace and better feel in changing speed and understanding the nuances of playing in this league,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He’s shooting the ball better than he has in the past and it’s just the confidence that comes with maturing in this league and that’s a big one for him.”
LeVert had 27 points in the opener against the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena and he had scored in double figures in his first six games before managing just four against the Knicks on Monday, their third game in four nights.
“LeVert is an excellent player and is a great example of a young man who has worked on his game and developed and got better each year from his time at Michigan,” Casey said.