Pistons mesmerize Magic, vault back into 6th place in East
Detroit — In what was probably their biggest game of the season, the Pistons didn’t fold. In fact, they played one of their most composed and energetic games of the season, with both the bench and starting groups contributing.
Against the surging Orlando Magic, the Pistons had their most daunting matchup, with a tiebreaker and playoff spot potentially on the line.
After a three-game losing streak to end their western trip, the Pistons bounced back, using a 30-19 surge in the second quarter to move ahead of the Magic — and stayed there — taking an impressive 115-98 victory on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The win moved the Pistons (38-37) back into sixth place in the East, a half-game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, who lost to the Sixers. They also won the season series against the Magic and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, with just seven games remaining. The Magic dropped to ninth place, a half-game behind the Heat, who beat the Mavericks.
It’s another night of shifting in the playoff race at the bottom of the East, but the Pistons helped their cause immensely, winning their 10th straight at home and ending Orlando’s six-game streak.
Wayne Ellington had 25 points, including seven 3-pointers, Blake Griffin added 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and Andre Drummond 18 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and six blocks, in helping the Pistons dominate in the second and third quarters.
Coach Dwayne Casey credited Drummond, whose energy helped propel the Pistons to a good start, after they had struggled early in games on the western trip.
“Not one play called (for him) and he comes in and gets 18, 18 and six blocks — just big time,” Casey said. “He just did a good job of commanding the boards, playing defense on one of the top centers in our league in (Nikola) Vucevic and did a good job of blitzing. Just an all-around excellent game.
“At the beginning of the game, he had a big block to set the game and let everybody know he was in there to command the paint — and he did a good job.”
The Pistons had struggled with their starts to games but jumped to a 16-7 lead in the first six minutes, with four points each by Reggie Jackson and Drummond. The Magic answered with a 12-3 spurt and tied it, but the Pistons finished the first quarter with a 30-27 lead, after the reserves entered and Ish Smith hit a jumper and Thon Maker added a 3-pointer to finish the period.
The Pistons pushed the lead to double digits in the second quarter, with a 13-6 start, with three straight jumpers by Smith (15 points and six assists) and ending with a pair of jumpers by Langston Galloway (12 points).
“The bench came in and did an excellent job, starting with Ish pushing the ball. The young man is playing with a pure heart and at this time of year, if you’re not playing with a pure heart, it shows,” Casey said. “He made (the Magic) make a decision on whether they were going to collapse on him and his speed or stay with the shooters.
“Then Wayne Ellington had a magnificent night. It reminds me of those night he had against (Toronto) in the playoffs a few years ago. That’s why I was jumping up and down when they said we had a chance to get him — because that is what he is capable of doing.”
After taking a 60-46 lead at halftime, with a Griffin 3-pointer just before the buzzer, Ellington was blazing hot to start the third quarter, making the Pistons’ first four shots — all 3-pointers — and stretching the lead to 72-52. Griffin added a three-point play and the rout was on.
The margin got as big as 26 and the Magic kept pushing, but the Pistons didn’t cave, coasting the rest of the way for the big win.
“Being on the West Coast for seven nights, coming back and trying to establish ourselves and getting into a good flow was really important,” Griffin said. “We knew how well they were playing, going 6-0 in their last six. I liked how we stepped up and met their challenge.”
►Drummond got off to a good start on both ends of the floor early, which seemed to fuel the Pistons’ energy level. He got a few early blocks and was on the boards aggressively, posting six points, five rebounds and four blocks in the first quarter. That intensity always is the question with him but the instances this season have been far fewer than previous years. In a big game like Thursday’s was, it was an encouraging sign.
►Unlike the first quarter of the Denver game on Tuesday, the Pistons came out engaged from the very beginning and connected for nine points — matching Tuesday’s first-quarter total — in the first 3:17. That included a pair of baskets by Drummond a 3-pointer by Ellington. They finished with a 3-pointer by Maker for a 30-point opening period.
►The bench group, led by Smith, was outstanding. They extended the lead in the second quarter and by pushing the pace, just outran the Magic. Smith has the first six points of the second quarter and Maker added a 3-pointer, for a 39-30 lead. Galloway added a pair of jumpers to push the margin to 10. The Pistons’ reserves outscored Orlando’s, 30-13, through three quarters.
►The Pistons’ 3-point shooting was a big difference, as they hit 52 percent through the first three quarters, including seven from Ellington and two each from Griffin, Galloway, Kennard and Maker. Combined with Drummond and Griffin’s inside presence, It was a tough inside-outside combo to stop.
►The Pistons did a good job defensively on the Magic, holding them around 40 percent from the field. When the score got out of hand, they let up some, but they didn’t let the lead get back inside 15 points. Dwane Casey brought the starters back at 8:35 to ensure the game didn’t get out of hand.