'We'll take it': Griffin, Pistons squeeze out win over Pelicans
New Orleans — Getting a win in the Big Easy wasn’t going to be simple for the Pistons, especially without Andre Drummond in the starting lineup for the third straight game.
The Pelicans, though, were without their All-Star, big man Anthony Davis. In the first meeting this season, the Pistons had trouble containing New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday, who had 37 points.
The Pistons needed a herculean effort from Blake Griffin, but eked out a 98-94 victory over the Pelicans on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center. The win snaps the two-game losing streak for the Pistons (21-26), who finish their three-game road trip Friday at Dallas.
Griffin scored 20 of his 37 points in the first quarter and added nine rebounds and seven assists. Reggie Jackson scored seven of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and Jon Leuer 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.
During the Pistons’ recent stretch, wins have been hard to come by but the way that they’re sweating them out in the final minutes isn’t sitting well with Griffin.
“The way we finished the game is the reason we’ve lost so many close games. This time, we just happened to come out on top,” Griffin said. “We got a lucky miss and we were able to go down and get a wide-open dunk. This doesn’t feel like that good of a win, but we’ll take it.”
The Pistons had a 79-70 lead entering the fourth quarter but the Pelicans (22-26) exploded for a 12-2 run to move ahead briefly, 82-81, at the 7:40 mark. Julius Randle (13 points and 13 rebounds) started it with a lay-in and Darius Miller and Nikola Mirotic (11 points) finished with back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Pistons responded with a drive by Langston Galloway and a 3-pointer by Jackson, who added another 3-pointer after a jumper by Holiday, who had 29 points Wednesday.
The Pistons had a 95-87 lead at the 1:32 mark and looked to be in control, but Holiday scored on a drive and Miller followed with a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 95-92 with 52.5 seconds left.
Reggie Bullock stepped into a passing lane and got a steal and breakaway dunk to push the lead to five and Bruce Brown added a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach.
Griffin got off to a good start, scoring 15 straight Pistons points during a four-minute stretch of the first quarter.
“He’s carrying us, making good decisions and doing everything you could as a franchise player to do. He’s been great; he sets the tone for us offensively,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He’d probably have more assists if we knocked down some of these shots and kick-outs we have. Again, we’re still trying to get a balance with that, with kicking it out but he did a fantastic job. We’re still trying to get balance with that and figure it out and he did a fantastic job.”
Luke Kennard was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws, ending Griffin’s string of points, but Griffin added a lay-in and a 3-pointer to finish his scoring outburst.
“Some shots went down and we were getting stops and getting on a run and got an easy one to start,” Griffin said. “We moved the ball well so we got some easy looks. It’s more a credit to how we were playing than anything else.”
The Pistons’ lead grew to 57-47 at halftime, but Holiday got hot in the third quarter, when he had 13 points, including a lay-in with 30.6 seconds left, cutting the Pelicans’ deficit to nine at the end of the third.
►1. The Pistons struggled again to rebound with Drummond out, getting outrebounded early but working to even the margin at 49. They generally have an advantage with the league’s best rebounder, but they’ve struggled in the three starts he’s missed and in the Heat game in which he was injured. Zaza Pachulia played 29 minutes in his third straight start.
►2. It was Throwback Night at Smoothie King Center, and the Pelicans had their own version of a throwback, with Jahlil Okafor having a good game in post, going for 17 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. He was mostly matched with Pachulia but the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft looked to turn back the clock with his play, marking his third-highest scoring game of the season.
►3. Leuer had another strong game, on both ends of the floor. Without Drummond, Leuer played some backup center and in 15 minutes, had 11 points. His season high was 12 points and Leuer was solid on offense, shooting 5-of-6 from the field, but more importantly, playing some solid defense on the inside, grabbing six rebounds.
► 4. The Pistons didn’t have an answer for Holiday again. Holiday had 37 points in the first meeting on Dec. 9 and followed it with another commanding performance, getting to the rim seemingly at will. The Pistons’ have had trouble defending driving perimeter players and Holiday had his way with the starting guards.
► 5. Reggie Bullock had a forgettable game, going 1-for-11 from the field, including 1-of-8 on 3-pointers. He did add five rebounds and five assists and helped facilitate the offense, but his shot simply wasn’t falling.