No Andre Drummond at all. Only a half with Blake Griffin.
Playing against the versatile and high-scoring Houston Rockets and the league’s leading scorer, James Harden, that’s generally a recipe for a loss for the Pistons.
Not so fast.
Without their best two big men, the Pistons got cooking in the middle quarters and held on down the stretch after a run, taking a surprising, 115-107 victory over the Rockets on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
Drummond missed the game because of inflammation in his left eye and Griffin had knee soreness. The rest of the squad stepped up to the task, both with scoring and rebounding, to boost the Pistons to one of their most impressive wins of the season.
Derrick Rose took over in the fourth quarter, with 12 of his 20 points and added 12 assists. Luke Kennard had 22 points and seven rebounds and Bruce Brown 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals for the Pistons (11-15), who finished 2-1 in their weeklong road trip.
“With those guys (out), we know we have to step up when we’re missing Dre and Blake,” Rose said on Fox Sports Detroit. “We thought we were going to have him back in the second half, but he had to be smart. With the guys that’s stepping up, we have to go out here and play the same way — playing together — like we normally play.”
The Pistons had a pair of 10-0 runs in the first half and finished the second quarter with a 7-0 stretch, with three free throws by Kennard, a free throw by Christian Wood (11 points and 13 rebounds) and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Tony Snell, who had 15 points and five rebounds. That made it a 62-52 lead and the Rockets didn’t have the lead the rest of the way.
Harden finished with 39 points, six rebounds and seven assists but Bruce Brown helped keep Harden from an offensive outburst with stellar defense.
Chris Clemons added 17 points and Clint Capela 12 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks for the Rockets (17-9).
The Pistons extended the lead to 80-65 at the 4:28 mark of the third quarter, after a drive by Rose, but the Rockets surged, with a three-point play by Harden, a lay-in by Austin Rivers (14 points) and a 3-pointer by Harden, who went 14-of-33 from the field and just 4-of-13 from beyond the arc.
►Brown relished the opportunity to guard Harden last season as a rookie. He looked to enjoy the chance again in their first meeting this season. In the first half, Harden was just 6-of-14 from the field and 2-of-7 on 3-pointers. He had 14 points, four rebounds and seven assists but seemed a bit passive offensively, trying to get his teammates involved.
Snell and Brown alternated in guarding Harden, which gave him different looks and allowed each to get a break.
“We knew he was on a back-to-back and for what Bruce Brown did, to pick up full court for every minute he was in there, that’s a man’s job,” Casey said on FSD. “You’re tired and he’s a little bit more tired because he played last night. It takes discipline and a lot of grit, and Tony and Bruce showed it.”
►Griffin played just 15 minutes in the first half and went 0-of-7 from the field, including three misses on 3-pointers. He had just two points, two rebounds and two assists and looked like he was laboring on his knee injury. Casey leaned on Thon Maker in a starting spot for Drummond and Maker’s 25 minutes were big, as he was a plus-8, with some good defense in short stretches.
►Drummond is the league’s leading rebounder and without him, the Pistons were at a severe disadvantage on the boards. The Rockets average 47.7 rebounds (fourth) and the Pistons 42.8 (26th). The Pistons ended with a 55-46 advantage in rebounding, including Wood’s 13 and Brown’s 10, plus four other players with at least five each.
“That’s what we should have been doing every night — we have to do that every night,” Casey said on FSD. “Guards have to come in and rebound.”
►Markieff Morris was very solid, with 15 points and seven rebounds and three big 3-pointers. He was good on offense and solid on defense, when the Pistons were thin in the frontcourt and needed a boost. Instead of changing the rotation and starting Morris, Casey looked to keep the bench unit together, with Wood and Morris as the bigs, which paid off.
►Kennard had a hot start offensively and others chipped in to carry the team in the second half. Kennard went 4-of-7 on 3-pointers and his first half gave them the shooting they needed to stay close to the Rockets, who jumped to an 8-5 lead in the first few minutes.