Miami, Fla. — Reggie Jackson was having his best game of the season. With the game tied and the precious seconds ticking under 30, Jackson got the ball from Andre Drummond at the top of the key. He dribbled left toward the sideline and drew a double-team.
Undeterred, he kept his dribble — and met another switching double-team. Still composed, Jackson drove the baseline and found Thon Maker on the opposite sideline. After a pump-fake, Maker launched the go-ahead 3-pointer, which put the Pistons’ bench into a frenzy, while simultaneously quieting the crowd at State Farm Arena in Friday's 125-122 victory.
It wasn’t Blake Griffin, who was ejected in the third quarter after getting two technical fouls. Not Wayne Ellington, who started for the first time as a Piston. Not Jackson, who had a season-high 32 points, with eight assists and no turnovers.
The Pistons trailed by 14 but had to overcome Blake Griffin's ejection in the third quarter The Detroit News
“It was big. (Jackson) made the right basketball play and sometimes that’s the simple thing to do. Thon had the wherewithal to knock down the shot,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t know how many (Maker) made but he was struggling from the 3-point line.
“Reggie made good decisions. They were blitzing him, he found passes out of the blitz and didn’t turn it over, which was huge.”
It was a coming-out party for Maker, who hadn’t made a significant offensive contribution in his three games, but his defense has been notable. He made some new Pistons fans with his block against the Wizards — then got up and defended another shot on the same sequence.
Maker is becoming something of a wild card for the Pistons, who needed some extra minutes after Griffin’s ejection. While Casey has harped about the Pistons’ futile defense, Maker is showing that he could be a shrewd trade pickup at the deadline.
Coming from the Bucks — who had the best record in the league — to the Pistons, who are struggling to make the eighth seed is a significant change. Maker remembers that experience and having another player with that hunger is a help.
“I can recall my rookie year and being in Milwaukee we were in exactly the same situation. I knew what it took,” Maker said. “I remember we had lost badly to the Nuggets and I felt like it was my fault, so I walked to (then-coach) Jason Kidd’s office and (then-assistant Sean) Sweeney was in there.
“We had a quick meeting for 45 minutes and we talked about what it was going to take to make the playoffs. We said we couldn’t drop six games all through March. We ended up going 15-2 or 16-2 and this is what it takes. For me, I can always recall that memory.”
Casey said he has a number of wins in mind that he’s targeting in the final 26 games — and Friday’s win was a nice start in that direction. It’ll take a better effort than they had against the Hawks, but if Maker can continue to contribute on both ends of the court.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position. We dug ourselves a hole and had to find a way to climb out of it,” Maker said. “Early on, we were going back and forth in finding our rhythm and they were hitting a lot of threes. Down the stretch, we did a good job of fighting.”
Brown on rebound
Rookie Bruce Brown looked rejuvenated in the first game back from the All-Star break. Casey had commented that the break time would be good for Brown, who was sluggish and not playing to the same level that he had set early in the season with his defensive disposition.
He finished with 12 points and two blocks, along with a highlight-reel dunk in the first quarter. Brown looked bouncy and energetic and credited the rest over the break.
“I definitely hit the rookie wall. I needed this break and now I have my legs underneath me again,” Brown said. “I felt it immediately. When I got back on the floor in practice (Wednesday), I knew my legs were back.”