The Pistons kept pace in the playoff hunt and celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the Bad Boys title team. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — If the Pistons make the playoffs, they might look back at a game or two as the main reasons why. Count Thursday’s big win over the Orlando Magic as one.
Add another to the list: Saturday’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Without Blake Griffin — who was a late scratch because of a sore left knee — the Pistons struggled like a middle school team during the first quarter and muddled their way through the second period.
In the third quarter, the Pistons regained their mojo, using a 10-point margin to move ahead and propel them to a thrilling 99-90 victory on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena. The victory punctuated the 30-year anniversary celebration for the 1989-90 Bad Boys back-to-back championship squads.
The celebration included several cameos by the Bad Boys, including Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre — and an ovation from the crowd during each recognition, during timeouts and a special halftime ceremony.
The celebration continued after the game, with the Pistons winning for the first time in the four games that Griffin has missed, though this was the first because of an injury. Coach Dwane Casey said Griffin’s status is day-to-day; the Pistons next play at Indiana on Monday.
The victory was the 11th straight at home for the Pistons (39-37), who remained in sixth in the East playoff race, a half-game ahead of the Nets, who beat the Celtics. The Magic and Heat also won, staying within one game and 1½ games, respectively.
Pistons coach talks about 99-90 victory, which was without forward Blake Griffin (sore knee). The Detroit News
“Our defense is what saved us tonight,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re such a rhythm team and guys are used to doing certain things in our system and (without Griffin), that one step up got us out of sync in the first half.”
With Griffin out, Reggie Jackson took the reins, with 28 points, five rebounds and five assists. Andre Drummond added 22 points, 19 rebounds, four steals and three blocks and Langston Galloway 12 points off the bench.
The Pistons managed just 11 points in the first quarter, shooting 14 percent (3-of-21) from the field and missing all seven 3-point attempts. The Trail Blazers (48-28) didn’t take advantage, hitting only 26 percent from the field and had just a 14-11 lead, after the Pistons finished with a 6-0 run.
Pistons center talks about Detroit's 99-90 victory in which he finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds. The Detroit News
“Not having Blake tonight, definitely he was missed, especially early on in that first half, when we couldn’t get it going. In the second half, we made it work,” Drummond said. “Our defense was the answer. We stopped focusing on offense and buckled down defensively but if we don’t score, they don’t score.
“We locked them down until halftime and we were focused and got it going in the second half.”
The Blazers pushed the lead to double digits with a three-point play by Rodney Hood and got to 34-24 in the final minutes with a drive by Enes Kanter (20 points and 15 rebounds). The Pistons finished the half with a 9-0 run, with five points by Jackson.
Jackson erupted in the third quarter with 11 points and led the comeback but Portland’s Damian Lillard (23 points and eight rebounds) countered with eight points in the third quarter. The Pistons converted 65 percent from the field and 4-of-8 on 3-pointers and took the lead, 66-59, entering the fourth quarter.
The Pistons pulled away, with an 11-2 run, including seven points by Galloway.
“Hats off to the team and I commend the team for continuing to play hard, despite what the circumstances were tonight,” Jackson said. “We’re just trying to play our best brand of basketball during this stretch and find a way to get in the playoffs and go from there.”