Pistons bench 'having fun' as spark plug during torrid stretch

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Pistons guard Ish Smith came off the bench to score 19 points in Wednesday's victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Detroit — It’s an unusual stat line: Blake Griffin, nine points.

Normally, it likely would mean a Pistons loss, but in their current streak of 10 wins in the last 12 games, there isn’t very much that’s normal.

The Pistons are finding different ways to win, buoyed by their bench production and lifted by their starting group, with remarkable streaks from Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, who both are playing at an All-Star level in the current string of games.

“This stretch of games, you never know who it’s going to be — it’s going to be somebody. Dre’s pretty dependable, and so many guys are stepping up,” Griffin said after Wednesday’s 131-114 win over the Timberwolves. “Reggie was unbelievable and Luke has been unbelievable. That’s tough for teams to game-plan against, when it’s a balanced attack like it was.

Added Griffin: “That second unit was unbelievable — they did everything they’re supposed to do and more. They made up for myself and some of our lack of execution in the first group.”

It’s a stark turnaround from earlier in the season, when the Pistons depended almost wholly on Griffin to run their offense, subsisting on isolation plays and needing him to score in the 30-point range to have a shot at winning.

Not anymore.

When the starters struggle, the bench is starting to pick up the slack. When the reserves aren’t clicking, there’s a boost from the starters. It’s the formula for a team that could build momentum heading to the playoffs — the Pistons are in sixth place with their recent surge — and could be the blueprint for future success in building on this season.

“It’s exciting basketball; we are coming in there and having fun,” reserve forward Thon Maker said. “It’s a lot of responsibility, just coming in off the bench and being ready right away for us — and I think we do a good job at doing that.

“It starts with the defensive end. We get stops and we out out and run in transition. It’s tough, and there is nobody that can stay right in front of Ish Smith getting in the lane and kicking out, or even finishing, as well. It’s really fun.

As the lead continued to mount Wednesday, it was a juxtaposition of sorts, with the starters on the bench rooting on the reserves, who were making shot after shot in a 25-5 start to the fourth quarter against Minnesota.

“Their bench was really good tonight; they really put it on us in the fourth quarter,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. That 9-0 run really hurt us. We didn’t do a good job of stopping the ball.”

When the first group got off to a slow start in the first half, the reserves stayed close in the second quarter, in time for everyone to regroup and pull away in the second half.

“They’re having fun but we didn’t have fun the first half — I’m not going to lie about that,” coach Dwane Casey said. “If they were having fun when we were in the first half, then we’re in trouble But in the second half, we had fun and that’s the way it should be.

“Having fun, pulling for each other, happy for everybody’s success, jumping up and down, but it’s fun when they’re competing like that.”

Fueled by foul

Drummond was steamed about the flagrant foul from Minnesota’s Taj Gibson that ended up with Gibson’s ejection. The officials’ review confirmed that it was a flagrant-2, and the incident seemed to fuel the Pistons for their big run.

“The tone Dre was playing all game long set him up and then that happened, and it brought everybody together,” Griffin said. “He did a great job of setting the tone and keeping us in the game.

“Obviously, I don’t know if I’ve seen him that mad. I told him the best thing you can do is go back out there and act like it didn’t happen when somebody doesn’t something like that. I know Taj; he’s a good dude, and I don’t’ think it was a malicious thing. If Dre goes out there and acts like it didn’t happen, knocks down the free throws, it’s demoralizing.”

Pistons at Bulls

Tip-off: 8 p.m. Friday, United Center, Chicago

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Pistons (32-31) have won three straight and 10 of their last 12 games, with increasing contributions from their reserve group and Andre Drummond, who had 31 points and 15 rebounds on Wednesday. The Bulls (19-47) are coming off a wild last-second win over the Sixers.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard