Grinding: Pistons outslug Devin Booker, Suns for fourth win in five games
Detroit — The way Stanley Johnson approached the fourth quarter Sunday, it was just him and Devin Booker, back in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, going after each other like they did when they were kids.
"It took me back there," said Johnson, whose fourth-quarter defense on Booker helped the Pistons run away with a 118-107 win over the Phoenix Suns at Little Caesars Arena. "It was like it was just me and him out there. He's definitely elevated his game to another level, for sure.
"I just tried to slow him down and be more physical with him."
Booker, the Grand Rapids native, tormented the Pistons, finishing with 37 points on 14 for 24 shooting. But he had eight points and three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
He scored 21 points in the first half, hitting eight of 12 shots. Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway and Bruce Brown all took cracks at trying to guard him. All failed.
Booker scored the Suns’ first seven points to open the second half and had 29 points after three quarters.
Then he sat for six minutes between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. And when Booker came back, Pistons coach Dwane Casey played his defensive trump card — putting the bigger Johnson on him.
"We knew Stanley had to be our guy," Casey said. "Booker is such a great scorer. But Stanley just physically put his will into the game. He did a good job of staying in front of him, bodying him and not letting him come clean and in rhythm on the pick-and-rolls."
Johnson opened the fourth quarter with bucket in the lane and a 3-pointer, triggering a 15-5 run to open the game up. With Johnson ambushing pick-and-rolls, Booker missed three straight shots.
He didn't score again until he back-to-back 3-pointers, one in transition, after the Pistons had established a 12-point lead.
"Just deny him the ball," said Johnson, who finished with 14 points. "He can't score if he doesn't touch the ball."
Johnson, though he grew up in California, said he's played against Booker in AAU and Nike showcase leagues since the two were eighth grade.
"We used to go at it," Johnson said. "I mean, we used to go at it, at it. I think I've played him pretty even, to be honest."
Johnson was just one aspect of the Pistons' strong bench effort Sunday. Galloway scored 15 points off the bench, hitting four of six three-point attempts. Ish Smith added nine points and Zaza Pachulia pulled down 10 rebounds.
"It's so nice," Blake Griffin said of the bench production. "Some games when we don't have it going, these guys come in and get us a lead or extend our lead. Stanley was unbelievable at both ends of the floor — in transition, pushing the ball.
"When he is playing like that, he's such a huge weapon for us."
The Pistons bench was a combined plus-63. The Suns bench was a combined minus-8.
"We just finally executed our game plan in the fourth quarter," said Griffin, whose 11-point surge down the stretch sealed the win. "Our game plan was solid and we just didn't do a good job of executing as a team.
"When we turned it up a notch and actually executed, we did what we were supposed to do."
Griffin, who finished with 16 points and 11 assists, said Casey lit into the team at halftime.
"He deservedly ripped us for how we played in the first half," Griffin said. "He lit a fire under us and sent the right message."
The Suns scored 60 points in the first half and shot 52 percent. The Pistons contributed nine turnovers, which led to 15 points. In the second half, the Suns scored 47 points and shot 46 percent.
The Pistons made just three turnovers in the second half.
"Something about these afternoon games," Casey said of the 4 p.m. start. "We've got to drink some coffee in the morning or wake up a little earlier — something to get us going, no matter what time of day it is.
"Our playing personality has to be ready to play, and play hard and aggressive. And we didn't do that until the second half."
Still, it was the Pistons fourth win in five games.
Andre Drummond posted 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Pistons. Reggie Jackson scored 19 points.