Newcomer Henson makes an impression but Pistons fall to Knicks at the wire

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — New acquisition John Henson was creating some buzz for the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena against the New York Knicks on Saturday night. 

It's only right, then, that an old friend sent the fans home quiet. 

Former Piston Wayne Ellington scored 17 with five rebounds and three assists as the Knicks defeated the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena, 95-92.

Detroit Pistons forward John Henson looks to pass as New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett defends during the second half.

Reggie Jackson led the Pistons (19-36) with a team-high 20 points and nine assists, Christian Wood had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Tony Snell and Henson each scored 12. 

The Pistons loss came tagged with a bit of controversy. With under 15 seconds to go, New York forward Julius Randle drove the paint and gave the Knicks an insurance basket to go up four. 

He elbowed Pistons center Thon Maker in the process, knocking out three of the big man's teeth. As officials discussed whether the incident should be reviewed for a flagrant foul, the 90-second window for video review closed.

BOX SCORE: Knicks 95, Pistons 92

"What was communicated to me was, they had missed the window to review it after they stood at half-court," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. "I was begging them to do it as soon as I saw Thon's three teeth and the replay upstairs. ... But they told me that the time had expired where they could go review it."

Henson, making his debut for Detroit after being acquired from Cleveland in a package alongside Brandon Knight for star center Andre Drummond on Thursday, finished 6-for-6 from the field and added four rebounds in 17:31.

"I thought he did a good job screening, caught it in the pocket, kicked it out. Just did an excellent job for being (here for) one shoot-around," Casey said. 

"You expect it, but understanding the new terminology — kickouts, passes — and just being comfortable with the rest of the guys was good for us."

Jackson echoed his coach's praise of Henson's work "in the pocket," where the ninth-year veteran buttered his bread on Saturday night.

"When he sets screens and teams come over to try to take away my attacking angle, he does a great job of sealing up the guards," Jackson said. "I just have to throw it up high, and he did a great job of finishing after that."

He scored 10 straight for the Pistons spanning the first and second quarters, all inside the paint.

"There was like three plays I knew, so they tried to call those," Henson said. "Defensively, (assistant coach Sean Sweeney) I had in Milwaukee for three or four years, so I know the things he wants, things that he demands, so that was a little easier."

Henson wasn't the only big man helping to fill the void left by Drummond.

The Pistons’ starting front court helped Detroit to a 14-9 lead 5:06 into the first quarter. Thon Maker hit a 3-pointer to open the game and scored twice from the paint, as Wood matched the deep ball and added a bucket inside.

"I like the way the paint is open. It's a new beginning for us," Casey said. 

What the Pistons coach didn't like, however, is that his team was out-rebounded 47-28 by the Knicks (17-39) in the wake of losing Drummond, whose 15.8 rebounds per game lead the NBA.

"I think we've been spoiled with a guy like Andre, who's one of the best in the history of the game. We've got to get a mindset of boxing out every time," Casey said.

"I thought we had two or three possessions where we had a chance to go get it. We kind of looked around and hesitated. When you hesitate at this level, you're not going to get that rebound.

Detroit closed the first quarter with an 11-point lead. In the opening frame the Pistons shot 58.8% from the field and forced seven turnovers.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) passes as Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker (7) defends during the first half.

The Knicks cut Detroit’s lead to five midway through the second quarter, and kept pace with the Pistons behind a team-leading eight first-half points by Ellington. New York ended the second quarter on a 10-4 run, culminating with a 3-pointer by Reggie Bullock that cut Detroit’s lead to 50-48 at halftime.

Pistons guard Reggie Jackson opened the second half with three assists, adding to his team-high nine on the night. The Knicks matched a 3-pointer from Tony Snell and five quick points from Bruce Brown to tie the score at 58. 

The Pistons again had their lead erased to close the quarter, as the Knicks scored six straight going into the fourth to make it 67-67.

"There was a lot of mistakes made at the end of the third quarter," Casey said. "I thought that stretch right before the end of the third kind of broke our back. We had a comfortable lead, and they had a good run."

Jackson restored the Pistons lead with a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, which was answered at the other end by Bobby Portis. Ellington gave New York its first lead on the next possession with a 3-point play.

After hitting a floater in the paint, Snell found Wood for a corner 3-pointer with 6:23 remaining to put Detroit up 84-77. Ellington continued to bully his former team, though, as he hit a 3-pointer in the midst of a 7-0 run that put the Knicks up two with 4:43 left.

With about 90 seconds to go, the Knicks took a 91-89 lead thanks to a 10-footer by Elfrid Payton. Jackson ran out the shot clock at the other end, his layup attempt rimming out and putting New York back on offense. 

The Knicks picked up two offensive rebounds on the following possession, which lasted 47 seconds and ended with the Knicks extending their lead to 93-89 with 13.5 seconds to go. 

Wood hit a 3-pointer at the other end, giving the Pistons 7.3 seconds to foul and get another possession. They did, and Bullock hit both.

Jackson took an off-balance 3-pointer at the other end, as the Pistons fell in regulation.

"I felt good with (the shot)," Jackson said. "I'll take that a million times."

Knight (knee), Svi Mykhailiuk (hip) and Derrick Rose (hip) did not play.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.