Phoenix — There wasn’t going to be a fourth-quarter fade out this time.
After Monday’s disappointing loss at Cleveland, the Pistons avoided a repeat performance, getting an inspired contribution from their bench group and a boost on defense.
With a 17-2 run early in the fourth period, the Pistons pulled away from the Phoenix Suns and took a 118-98 victory on Thursday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. It’s the opener of the four-game western trip, which continues Saturday at Portland.
With the win, the Pistons (37-34) increased their lead in sixth place over the Brooklyn Nets to a full game and by two games from the Miami Heat, who were both idle.
Wayne Ellington had 23 points, Blake Griffin 17 points, seven rebounds and eight assists and Andre Drummond 16 points and 19 rebounds. Luke Kennard added 16 points off the bench, with the reserve group chipping in 45 points in extended play with the lopsided score in the fourth quarter.
Coach Dwane Casey said defense was the critical component in the fourth quarter when they got some stops and turned those into easy baskets on the other end. The Suns had 19 turnovers and took advantage.
“Defensively from here on out is what we have to concentrate on and get better at,” Casey said. “We locked in; we flipped the switch and got it done.
“We didn’t get to our zone (defense) but we have to use every weapon in the toolbox defensively.”
The Suns (17-56) trailed, 87-80, after the third quarter and were within 89-84 after a jumper by Jamal Crawford at the 10:46 mark.
The Pistons responded with two free throws from Langston Galloway (eight points and five rebounds) and a highlight-reel dunk by Drummond, off a behind-the-back pass from Ish Smith (11 points), which started the decisive run.
The Pistons improved to 37-34 with a 118-98 win over Phoenix on Thursday. Coach Dwane Casey talked about the victory with reporters afterward. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Drummond had an alley-oop pass from Galloway and Smith had a reverse lay-in off a drive and another jumper, which made it 106-86 with 6:36 left.
Devin Booker (26 points) had the only basket in the run for the Suns, who were 0-of-7 on 3-pointers in the final period.
“Our energy level went up. I’m not a big excuse guy, but I think the first game of a West Coast trip is always a mental and physical fatigue challenge,” Griffin said. “Starting a game when your body’s used to winding down (is hard). Our first games of both West Coast trips have been sloppy and tonight, fortunately, we turned it up in the second half.”
The big run helped keep some of the starters on the bench for rest, with three games in four nights on the remainder of the trip.
► Kennard found his shooting touch, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, after struggling in the past six games. He had been looking like he had tired legs but was energized and had good bounce.
► Thon Maker had good energy, having to play extended time (28 minutes) with Griffin and Drummond getting into foul trouble. He finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks and was all over the court on defense. He’s finding his niche with the reserves and on the offensive end but his calling card is defense.
► Booker had 15 of his 26 points in the first quarter but was stifled after that. He was solid on the offensive end, going 8-of-17 and added 8-of-10 on free throws. The Pistons put Galloway and Ellington on him primarily, along with some minutes from Bruce Brown. He made some off-balance shots but for the most part, they made things difficult for him.
► Griffin and Ellington are building excellent chemistry on offense, with Griffin setting screens and Ellington getting to his spots and with a quick release, getting the shots to fall. After hitting seven 3-pointers on Monday against the Cavaliers, Ellington added another six against the Suns.
► The Pistons got going on the perimeter early, with the Suns using a zone defense to deny Griffin and Drummond on the inside. Reggie Jackson and Ellington each hit two jumpers before Griffin got his first basket, a 3-pointer, at the 6:03 mark of the first quarter. The Pistons have been focusing more on zone offense and with the shots falling, they were able to get out to a good start.