'Good time to capitalize': With trade deadline looming, Pistons win again
New York — In the Pistons’ precarious playoff situation, they’re in no position to be picky about wins and losses. They’ll take whatever they can get, as they head into the All-Star break with a favorable schedule, including back-to-back games against the struggling New York Knicks.
After notching their best win of the season on Monday against the Denver Nuggets, the Pistons followed it up with another win, outlasting the Knicks, 105-92, on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Pistons have consecutive wins for just the third time since Dec. 1 — and with a rematch against the struggling Knicks on Friday at Little Caesars Arena, they could have their first three-game streak since beating the Warriors to cap a five-game stretch.
In their last game before Thursday’s trade deadline, the Pistons gave a glimpse that they may only need complementary bench pieces rather than a major overhaul to be able to make the playoffs.
Blake Griffin had 29 points, six rebounds and eight assists, Reggie Bullock added 19 points and six rebounds and Reggie Jackson 19 points and six assists for the Pistons (24-29), who moved within a game of the Heat, who played later Tuesday at Portland.
“It was important to come out and not take any team lightly and come out and execute and let our execution take care of the game for us,” Griffin said. “We get two days (of rest), a game and then two days (of rest) again. The rest, combined with having most of our games at home, (is good).
“Everybody’s tired, everybody’s injured a little bit and not playing at 100 percent and this is a good time to capitalize on that and go into All-Star break feeling good about ourselves.”
While the starting group was solid, the reserves were rocky and almost let leads slip away in the second and third quarters. The Knicks (10-43) pulled within three on a couple occasions, but the Pistons were able to hold them off.
“We had lapses. We started out strong, but our second unit has to come in and establish themselves — they did it last night,” coach Dwane Casey said. “They did a great job last night of coming in and maintaining the tempo, the intensity, the pace.
“We bounced back in the second half, with a defensive mindset; we held them to 17 points in the third quarter and 21 in the fourth. We shouldn’t have to dig ourselves a hole; that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Andre Drummond (17 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks) scored on a putback and Jose Calderon (six points) added a jumper for a 78-71 margin heading into the fourth quarter. The Pistons never trailed in the game and the Knicks pulled within 85-82 on consecutive 3-pointers by Kadeem Allen, Lance Thomas and Damyean Dotson, at the 7:51 mark.
Zaza Pachulia answered with a three-point play, Jackson added a jumper and Griffin a 3-pointer, pushing the lead back to 11. Bullock had a 3-pointer and Jackson followed with two free throws for their largest lead, 100-86, with 1:57 left.
The Knicks lost their 14th straight game but got 25 points, five rebounds and six assists from Dennis Smith Jr.
“It was a great game from start to end. We probably had a little lapse in the second quarter,” Bullock said. “Our game is when we get the ball out of bounds fast, whether they score or not. Just push the ball back down their throats, attack, get threes, get to the lane and get lobs.
“When we play with that speed, it’s very hard for teams to guard.”
1. Reggie Jackson again looked like he was regaining his old form, with increased confidence on the pick-and-roll. On the first play of the game, Jackson teamed with Drummond for a lob dunk that was reminiscent of their chemistry in the 2015-16 season, before Jackson’s knee and ankle injuries. Jackson had nine points and four assists in the first half and was 3-of-5 from the field (1-of-3 on 3-pointers).
2. Bruce Brown had another down offensive game Monday, just trying to find his way in the starting group. He was scoreless against the Nuggets and on the second game of a back-to-back, he had just two points in 17 minutes. He was better on defense, notching a couple of blocks.
3. The reserve group, which accounted for 60 points in the win over the Nuggets, disappeared again, notching just 19 points on Tuesday. Luke Kennard, who had 14 points on Monday, had just two points and Zaza Pachulia had all five of his points in the fourth quarter. It’s the hot-and-cold nature of the bench unit, which is one of the key reasons for the team’s inconsistencies.
4. Ish Smith (load management) rested on the second game of a back-to-back, which seemed to be a precautionary measure as he’s just coming off injury. That meant more playing time for Jose Calderon, who had six points in 15 minutes. They had tinkered with using Bruce Brown earlier this season, but that hasn’t worked out. While Smith recovers from his groin issues, Calderon seems to be the primary option.
5. Dennis Smith Jr. got another look at the Pistons — his third in the past 11 days. Smith faced the Pistons twice in a six-day span while with the Mavericks and after the trade to the Knicks last week, got a third shot Tuesday. He’ll get another in the home-and-home on Friday and the rare fifth meeting in the regular-season finale on April 10.