Memphis, Tenn. — In Tuesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pistons brought many of their same bad habits from 2018 into the new year. The defense was porous, allowing easy drives to the rim, and the offense couldn’t get the ball to fall.
Wednesday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies had some of the same elements, until the fourth quarter, when the Pistons won it with defense. They got six straight defensive stops and used a 13-0 run to put the Grizzlies away, 101-94.
In the closing minutes, they had a 14-point lead and had a scare when Memphis trimmed it to five in the final minute. It was a different feeling for the Pistons (17-19), who entered the game with just one win in their previous six games.
Their slow starts in first quarters had been their undoing; in fact, the last time they led after the first quarter was against Minnesota on Dec. 19. Coach Dwane Casey pointed to the defense — specifically, preventing easy shots.
“We finally whittled that shooting percentage down to 46 percent; it was close to 57 to 58 the whole game,” Casey said. “It starts on the defensive end. Until our shooting comes around, we have to continue to defend and get stops and get the shots we want.”
The Bucks are one of the best offensive teams in the league, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Grizzlies are a different case. They sashayed through the lane in the first half, but midway through the fourth quarter the Pistons finally created some cushion, extending the lead with their 13-0 run.
In particular, Blake Griffin’s defense was notable. He took two charges, putting his season total at 17, which leads the NBA. Casey lauded Griffin’s effort in giving up his body and becoming an example for the rest of the team; last season, Casey also had the league’s best: guard Kyle Lowry, who had 37 charges.
“That’s great; that’s two years in a row with the league leader. For your star player to put his body in harm’s way to take a charge is huge,” Casey said. “He sets the tone with that and we have to get more people to do that. Everybody has to do that because we have no shot blockers other than Andre (Drummond).
“The best way to deter that if we’re going to run them off the 3-point line is to take a charge. Blake is one of the best in the league, as the numbers show, at doing that.”
Jackson looking good
Grizzlies rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State) more than held his own against the Pistons’ combo of Griffin and Drummond, with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Jackson was 8-of-11 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Griffin liked what he saw from the promising big man.
“He’s unbelievably talented,” Griffin said. “He’s so young and so raw still, but so skilled and has a good feel. He’s going to be tough for a long, long time. He’s going to be a good one.
Casey also was impressed with what Jackson was able to do with a presence in the paint on both ends of the court, as well as a savvy that most rookies don’t possess. He commended Michigan State coach Tom Izzo for developing Jackson and Miles Bridges, who is with the Charlotte Hornets.
“Very impressed. That young man is going to be something else,” Casey said. “I’m jealous of Coach Izzo; he had Jackson and Bridges. That young man, as soon as he experiences his first year in the league, (he’ll be good).”
‘I have to be locked in’
Although Luke Kennard was one of the catalysts for the win with a pair of 3-pointers during the critical run, Casey still was trying to encourage him to shoot more quickly and to not think about his shots, if they’re open.
“It is (hard). The speed is fast but I still have to do a better job of being down and ready to shoot,” Kennard said. “We have guys who can make quick passes and you have to be ready for it. I’ve been caught sleeping on the weak side and not being ready to shoot. I have to be locked in and ready to shoot the ball.”