Phoenix — Through three quarters, the Pistons found themselves in a tough but familiar situation on Thursday night. They were in a tight game against a team with a worse record and were in a dogfight.
Unlike the loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons bounced back in the fourth period and pushed their way to a 118-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns. They did it with defense, getting stops early in the fourth quarter, sparking a 17-2 run that helped give them enough cushion to rest their starters in the final period.
With their constricted schedule in the last 11 games, rest will become more of a focus, but coach Dwane Casey is concentrating on ensuring they play better on the defensive end and not let the opposing star players score easily.
That included putting the clamps on the Suns’ Devin Booker, who had 15 points in the first quarter but finished with only 26 in the game. The Pistons (37-33) used a combination of wing defenders, including Bruce Brown, Langston Galloway and Wayne Ellington, to give Booker different looks and added a hedging Andre Drummond to discourage Booker on pick-and-roll plays.
“Defensively, from here on out, that’s what we have to concentrate on. We locked in; we flipped the switch and we got it done,” Casey said. “It’s called staying focused and getting locked in. You have to simulate and be flexible with some shell principles and rules, with a guy like that.
“It’s almost like a box-and-one and those guys had attention to detail once you relax and get sucked in, they’ll go to those big guys.”
Thon Maker added some defensive intensity, playing a few more minutes after Drummond and Blake Griffin got in foul trouble and Casey looking for a more athletic option than Zaza Pachulia off the bench.
“(It’s Maker’s) grit and want-to and athleticism and his length. The young man is hungry. That’s the way we have to play. There’s no time for individuals; we have to be over ourselves,” Casey said. “Tonight it was Thon, Galloway, Wayne and Bruce.
“Every night, it’s going to be somebody different. We can’t depend on Blake, Andre and Reggie (Jackson) every night. It’s going to be everybody stepping up and getting the job done on our roster.”
Sticking to the plan
The Pistons came out of the All-Star break with 26 games remaining and Casey indicated that the plan was to break it up into five-game segments, with one extra at the end. The Pistons went 4-1 in each of the first two segments and with Thursday’s win, went 3-2 in the third section. With 11 games remaining, they likely would need to win five more games, which would put them at 42-40, to make the playoffs.
“Every game, no matter who it is, is important,” Casey said. “We have to defend. Teams are shooting at a high rate, including the 3-point shot. We were one of the top teams defending the three and now we’re ninth.
“That’s been our Achilles heel on defense. There was no semblance of physicality against Cleveland. If we’re serious about the playoffs, we have to buckle up on the defensive end.”
Close to the limit
After getting a technical foul for arguing with officials on Thursday, Griffin has 12 technical fouls this season, equaling Drummond for the team high. The NBA limit is 16 before a player gets a one-game suspension.
The totals start over for the playoffs, so if the Pistons make the postseason, they would have a bit more leeway.
Pistons at Trail Blazers
Tipoff: 10 p.m. Saturday, Moda Center, Portland, Ore.
TV/radio: FSD-Plus/WWJ 950
Outlook: The Trail Blazers (44-27) have won five of their last six games, leaning more on Damian Lillard after C.J. McCollum’s knee injury. The Pistons (37-34) are coming off a big win against the Suns, which kept them in sixth place in the playoff race.