Oklahoma City — The Pistons’ post-Andre Drummond era began with a flourish, with a new-look front line and some solid effort from a short-handed roster.
It just wasn’t enough to topple the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Pistons hung close until the final minutes, as the Thunder held on for a 108-101 victory on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Reggie Jackson had 28 points and Christian Wood 27 points — one off his career high — and added 12 rebounds and five assists in a starting role. Thon Maker added 19 points and seven rebounds for the Pistons (19-35), who finish a back-to-back at home Saturday against the New York Knicks.
The Pistons were without Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and Svi Mykhailiuk because of injuries and with Drummond gone and Tim Frazier waived, they had just nine active players. Regardless, the scrappy effort still was there.
“I was really excited about the intensity guys played with; I thought they played hard. You’ve got to execute down the stretch and we didn’t do a good job of executing,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Some of that is a lot of guys haven’t been in those situations. The effort and intensity was there, for the most part, in the game.”
The Thunder (32-20) had a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter after a three-point play and drive by Dennis Schroder (18 points) but Jackson countered with a three-point play and on the next trip, added a four-point play after a jumper by Chris Paul (20 points, six rebounds and seven assists), cutting the lead to 85-78 at the 10:08 mark.
Wood later added a 3-pointer, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander responded with three of four free throws, en route to five straight Thunder points. Jackson followed with a 3-pointer, but Steven Adams dominated the middle, with 16 points and eight rebounds, getting position on Wood and Maker, who fouled out.
Jackson had 28 points, on 11-of-18 shooting, and three assists in 32 minutes. The Detroit News
Adams hit a hook with 4:23 left to push the lead back to 10.
“That’s where Steven Adams abuses a lot of people in the paint with his size and physicality,” Casey said. “Thon battled and got in front of him a couple times and took away his catches.”
The Pistons rallied with a free throw by Jackson and Wood scored on a putback. That started an 8-2 run, with another lay-in on a nice pick-and-roll play from Jackson and Maker made one of two free throws to finish the flurry, to get within 99-95 with 2:28 left.
The Pistons couldn’t get stops down the stretch, though, and Paul hit two free throws and a jumper to get the lead back to eight. The Thunder lead got down to five in the final seconds, but they made their free throws and kept the Pistons at bay.
With the increased role, Wood flourished, nearing career highs in both points and rebounds, and went 10-of-18 from the field.
“It’s what I conditioned for and worked for. It’s my time and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Wood said. “Just with more games and more experience, it’s starting to come to me. The game is starting to me instead of me chasing it.”
The Pistons had only nine players available but Casey said he liked their effort. The Detroit News
►The two newest Pistons, guard Brandon Knight and center John Henson, did not make the trip to Oklahoma City because they hadn’t completed their physicals. They’ll likely be available for their home debut Saturday against the New York Knicks at Little Caesars Arena.
►Instead of choosing between Wood and Maker for a starting center, Casey utilized them both, with Wood at power forward. With no other centers on the roster, the Pistons had to stagger the minutes, with Sekou Doumbouya as the power forward, about the midway point of the first quarter. With only nine players available, the Pistons did well to shuffle the rotation and keep everyone fresh.
►Rookie two-way players Jordan Bone and Louis King got some playing time because of the short-handed rotation. Both were scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting. Bone got three fouls in about a four-minute span and both seemed to be logging minutes without hurting the team with bad shots or turnovers.
►Jackson had one of his best games offensively, going 11-of-18 from the field, and was one of the Pistons' best options, but Galloway was just 2-of-8 — and 0-of-5 from 3-point range — and the bench provided just 14 points.