'That is fun': Pistons wash away sour taste with 129-103 pummeling of Nuggets
Detroit — The best way to get past a bad loss is with a better win.
Coming off their most disappointing defeat of the season — squandering a 25-point lead against the Clippers on Saturday — the Pistons made amends with maybe their most impressive victory.
The Pistons had a 14-point lead heading into the final period and turned it into a laugher, demolishing the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, 129-103, on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
It’s a season high in points and winning margin for the Pistons (23-29), who washed out the bad taste from Saturday’s loss and finished their three-game homestand at 2-1. They have a home-and-home against the struggling Knicks on Tuesday and Friday and have a chance to head into the All-Star break next week with some momentum.
Andre Drummond had a season-high 27 points and added 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in what was one of his best effort games of the season.
“We were playing with the same energy we had in the Clippers game, but sustained it for the full game,” Drummond said. “That last game really hurt, just giving up a 25-point lead and losing it in the fourth.
“It was definitely tough and a frustrating game for me, getting into foul trouble. I think tonight, we came out the exact same way but sustained it for the full game.”
Stanley Johnson had 21 points — one off his season high — and Blake Griffin played a season-low 23 minutes and tallied 17 points.
With the lopsided score reaching a 29-point margin, it made for a festive atmosphere as the reserves built the lead and the starters were able to rest the entire fourth quarter, on the first game of a back-to-back.
“It’s fun when you’re playing hard and kicking people’s butts — to me, that’s fun,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s not fun when you’re not competing and doing what you’re supposed to do, like making the right pass. But it was fun the way we played tonight.
“I thought we played hard and played together and that is fun when you’re playing that way.”
The Nuggets (37-16) were without three of their starters, but led, 25-18, in the first quarter after a 3-pointer from Michael Beasley (16 points). Drummond answered with back-to-back baskets, including a three-point play, to spark a 10-0 run, with a jumper and 3-pointer by Langston Galloway (18 points).
Denver had an 11-3 run near the end of the period, but Johnson’s 3-pointer pulled the Pistons within 36-34 at the end of the first. The Pistons started the second with another run, as Galloway and Luke Kennard (14 points) accounted for the first 10 points and Zaza Pachulia added a pair of free throws, to push the lead to 46-38.
The Nuggets got within 48-45, as Trey Lyles (20 points) sparked a 7-2 run but Drummond returned and hit back-to-back floaters and helped keep them at bay. The Pistons had a 68-55 lead at halftime and Drummond scored 14 points in the third quarter.
Johnson spurred the final run, a 12-2 start to the fourth period, with a pair of 3-pointers and a three-point play, pushing the lead to 109-85 at the 9:38 mark. Galloway hit another 3-pointer on the next possession and his four-point play with 6:42 left made it a 120-91 lead.
“I think almost every time, we tried to make the right basketball play, we made extra passes and you can see we were high in assists (season-high 32),” Griffin said. “That type of energy is contagious, when one guy starts to play like that, everybody starts to play like that — and even the missed shots feel good and it gave us energy on the defensive end.”
► Like Saturday’s game, the Pistons had a hot start, hitting 7 of their first 9 field goals. The starting group has been steady, but the bench has been hot and cold, squandering leads with inconsistent play. The reserves were outstanding Monday, accounting for 60 points, with aggressive play from Kennard and Galloway in attacking the basket. Galloway said it was a concerted game plan, which they executed by getting the defense to react to them, creating more openings.
► Drummond not only was effective but was efficient, taking smarter shots within the paint, including several putbacks, in his 12-of-14 performance from the field. He and Griffin combined to go 18-of-22 on field goals. Casey said he wanted to get some rest for Griffin, who has been playing extended minutes and accomplished that goal.
► Johnson played one of his most balanced games and looked to be in control, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range and showing a better shot selection, going 7-of-10 overall from the field. He looked smooth and under control and added seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in just 25 minutes.
► Reggie Jackson also was fairly efficient, with a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 14 points and four assists. Besides Bruce Brown, the other four starters scored in double figures, plus three bench players (Johnson’s 21 points, Galloway’s 18 and Kennard’s 14). It was the balance they’ve lacked with multiple scorers in the second unit.
► The players had fun and were visibly celebrating in the fourth quarter — the starters, maybe because they didn’t have to go back in the game — but it was a levity that hasn’t been around the team in weeks, as they’ve struggled in December and January as the schedule got tighter and the results didn’t follow.