After a 4-0 start, the Pistons are reeling, suffering their second straight overtime loss, to the Heat on Monday night. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — When Blake Griffin arrived with the Pistons at the trade deadline last season, things immediately were different. Team owner Tom Gores had the superstar he long coveted and the Pistons were on their way.
Not quite. Not yet.
They still missed the playoffs and the questions about whether and how Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson would mesh persisted.
The early answer with new coach Dwane Casey was to move Jackson off the ball and run the offense through Griffin. For the first four games, it seemed to work, but in the midst of the Pistons’ five-game losing streak, there still are questions.
Monday night’s overtime loss to the Heat provided a glimpse that there still is some work to do to jump-start the Pistons’ stagnant offense.
“Reggie had a rhythm going,” Casey said Tuesday. “The game is going to dictate a lot for us. I love the way Reggie played last night.”
Part of the solution is giving Jackson more looks in his comfort zone of pick-and-roll, which was a heavy staple of Stan Van Gundy’s offense the previous four years. This year, he's averaging 16.3 points, his best since his career-best season of 2016.
After Griffin fouled out in the final minute of regulation Monday, Jackson scored seven points in overtime and 11 points in the last eight minutes. Jackson had a season-high 25 pointsand Griffin 24, for the best balance the Pistons’ trio has shown this season. The wheels of change started turning last week to get Jackson and Griffin on the same page.
“After the Brooklyn game (Wednesday), Reggie and I texted the next day for a long time, going over end-of-game stuff and just encouragement, saying that we would figure things out,” Griffin said. “We didn’t execute down the stretch but did at times in the Brooklyn game. (We said) Let’s figure out four sets we really like between me and him.
“At the end of the game, it’s going to be in his hands or my hands and we have to get into sets that not only put the team in position to score or win but ones that he’s comfortable with or I’m comfortable with.
"Teams should know it’s coming and we still should be able to score.”
Johnson had been marginalized in the offense and it was clear from his body language on the court that he was having trouble making the adjustment to having the ball in his hands significantly less.
Jackson struggled with the change but Griffin’s texts were a welcome gesture to try to get on the same page on the offensive end.
“It’s amazing. Honestly, the best part about it was being hard on myself and going home and to get a text from a superstar, it picks your spirits up,” Jackson said. “I’m one of my toughest critics and having a guy like that reach out to me and tell me to keep my head up and work out how we want to play at the ends of games and for us to make better decisions makes me feel about myself.
“He helped instill more confidence in me. I appreciate having him here; he’s a very selfless guy. I don’t know if many guys ever do that.
"I’m just thankful to have him on the team.”
Down the stretch Monday, Jackson showed that he still can be effective, both going to the rim and hitting from outside when he’s in a rhythm — but he needs to handle the ball and to take some shots and feel integrated into the offense to be at his best.
The Pistons ran more pick-and-roll plays for Jackson with Drummond or Griffin and the expanded variation helped their offense, with 74 points from their trio and Jackson showing old flashes playing in his bailiwick.
“It felt good; I wanted to be aggressive for the team. We had our primary guy out and it’s next up and I was trying to do my part to be aggressive and finding us a good shot, whether it was for myself or for somebody else,” Jackson said.
“(Defenders) figured us out and going back to the past, guys have made adjustments to take the head of the snake.
“You have to figure out ways to make them pay. Nine games in, we’re starting to get some rhythm. We have to get better at it, but we’re working at it each day and when we figure out how to counter-punch guys for trying to load up on Blake, we’ll be all set.”
It hasn’t resulted in wins yet, as the Pistons are mired in a five-game skid, but they’re closer to finding a solution to their offensive struggles, which could help turn things around. With two winnable games at Orlando and Atlanta this week, they’ll have a chance to see if things stick.
Pistons at Magic
Tipoff: 7 Wednesday, Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.
Outlook: The Pistons have lost five in a row, including three straight on the road. Orlando forward Evan Fournier hit a 22-foot jumper at the final horn for a 102-100 victory at home against the Cavaliers on Monday.