Griffin, Jackson key Pistons' dramatic overtime win

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News
Pistons forward Stanley Johnson makes a layup as Houston Rockets forward Isaiah Hartenstein (55) defends during the first half.

Detroit — With a lot of talk about the P-word floating around Little Caesars Arena on Friday night, Dwane Casey spoke more about the D-word.

That's because the first-year Pistons coach, known for his steady hand in building cultures, knows discipline is a must for the team to have a return to playoff success.

A home-and-home return game against one of the NBA’s best teams yielded a Little Caesars Arena crowd with playoff energy. The Pistons returned the favor with postseason intensity in a 116-111 overtime win.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 116, Rockets 111, overtime

“That was the word for us today was our discipline, in everything we did, offensively and defensively,” Casey said. “Our defense won the game … It definitely wasn’t our offense, but we made some key buckets.”

Jackson had 10 points in overtime, scoring 19 after the third quarter, and Griffin had five of his 28 points in the extra session to close it out. 

This was after the teams traded would-be winners at the end of regulation. 

James Harden’s jumper put the Rockets up 96-95 with 27 seconds left, setting up a dramatic Griffin 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

Alas, Eric Gordon answered with a driving layup to sent it to overtime with one-tenth of a second left.

The win was Detroit’s first after three home-and-home losses this season against the Celtics and the Rockets — teams whose seasons ended in the seventh game of the conference finals last spring.

Detroit’s discipline was evident in many ways: Andre Drummond avoiding early fouls en route to a monster first half; rookie Bruce Brown being ready to defend league MVP Harden after a long layoff; and Reggie Jackson’s late explosion after a quiet start to secure an exciting win.

Drummond finished with 23 points and 20 rebounds, his sixth game of the season with 20 or more points and rebounds.

He finished with one foul, his second-lowest total of the season, and avoided the early fouls that have been the only thing slowing him down during a recent hot stretch.

“I’ve been in foul trouble a lot this season, so I’m just really trying to figure everything out,” Drummond said. “It felt like a playoff game, kind of.

“We took our mistakes in the game before (on Wednesday) and didn’t let it happen again.”

The Pistons outscored Houston by 16 in Drummond's 44 minutes, topped only by Jackson (plus-17) and Brown (plus 18).

Brown helped contain Harden, who scored 43 points in Wednesday’s 126-124 win in Houston and started Friday with 15 points in the first quarter.

But Casey looked to the rookie, despite his not playing in four straight games, to slow Harden down.

It worked just enough, as Brown had three steals and helped force Harden into seven turnovers en route to a 33-point night.

“I haven’t played many players, but he’s definitely the hardest player I’ve guarded in my lifetime,” Brown said. “Honestly I didn’t go into the game thinking I would touch the floor, but I was ready.

“He kind of lulls you to sleep. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot it or attack your top foot. I just tried to keep him to his right hand and not foul him on 3s.”

Griffin, the Pistons' veteran leader, showed some discipline of his own, calmly playing through getting dunked on by Clint Capela in overtime, and responding with a powerful one-handed slam of his own on the ensuing possession, electrifying the Black Friday crowd of 17,268.

“When the crowd is like that, it’s a fun place to play, because they know basketball,” Griffin said. “You feel like you have another man out there.”

Casey added: “This gym here, I know these fans here are just waiting to have a rocking arena. We have to give them something to get excited about. They're not just going to pay their hard-earned money to hang out and watch us not give 100 percent. We're getting to where our fans are going to respect us, respect what we're putting on the floor, but we've got to go out and earn it.

"They're not going to do it because we say, 'Hey, come out and watch us play.'

"I don't blame them. I wouldn't either. I've been in that situation before, it's coming. It's growing."

Jackson, the team’s former top option late before the acquisition of Griffin, drove it home with decisive drives in overtime, drawing and converting five free throws, banking home two strong drives, and closing Detroit’s scoring by splitting a pair of free throws with 15.2 seconds to play.

The Pistons had lost two straight overtime games and went 1-4 in OT games last season.

“For us, it was just to get a win,” Jackson said. “We’ve been in this tough position before, we found our way into overtimes. Blake hit a big shot, and it was tough for us to go into overtime.

“I think that’s one of our biggest things. We’ve been detail-oriented since we got into training camp. We’re just trying to get better.”

The Pistons (9-7), who have not won a playoff game in more than 10 years, shot just 7-for-27 on 3-pointers (25.9 percent), breaking a streak of seven straight games with double-digit 3-point makes.

Capela had 29 points and 21 rebounds, topping his season-high point total for the second straight game against Detroit.

This was the second of five home-and-homes for the Pistons this season, with consecutive meetings remaining with New York, Chicago and Indiana remaining.

And maybe, with more efforts like Friday night, more home-and-home situations could await the Pistons this spring in the playoffs.

Ennis starting in Houston

James Ennis III, who played a reserve role in 27 games for the Pistons after being acquired at the trade deadline last season, is a full-time starter this season for the Houston Rockets.

Ennis has started all 14 games he’s played for Houston, once again pegged as a championship contender.

Entering Friday, his minutes this season have gone up to a career-high 25.0 a game after he played 20.4 last season in Detroit.

On Wednesday, he made two 3-pointers in the final nine minutes in a 126-124 win for the Rockets, who brought him in on a two-year contract this offseason to help negate the free-agent losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute.

“Intensity plays and he makes 3s; he fits our needs perfectly,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And then, we learned things about him. He makes big shots, I didn’t know that. He’ll hit 3s and he’s not afraid of the moment.”

Ennis, acquired by Detroit last season from Memphis for Brice Johnson and a second-round draft pick, is averaging a career-high 8.6 points.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.