ATLANTA — In the fourth quarter of the Pistons' preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks, Al Horford burned Andre Drummond in the post for an easy bucket. Drummond competitively tried to issue payback on the other end by way of a slam dunk shot -- our favorite! -- but the dunk was not as good as the post move he put on Horford and the ball hung on the rim, eventually dropping out to the Hawks' John Jenkins. Jenkins pushed it up the floor, Horford followed and was around for another easy bucket.
Drummond was lagging behind, coming on to the scene too late.
Stan Van Gundy immediately called timeout and served Drummond with a dish of what some might call an earful. "Teaching moment" was a good way of putting it at the time.
Two possessions and less than a minute later, Drummond got beat down the court again, as he stayed behind to argue what he thought was a foul when he was stripped by a double team. Van Gundy, visibly frustrated, called another timeout.
Van Gundy was asked about the two timeouts after the game. With his hands in his pockets, looking down at the ground, Van Gundy sarcastically said, "Yeah, I just calmly asked them for a little more effort."
After a laugh and a brief loss of words, Van Gundy got serious. He held up an exasperated fist and said inspiringly, "We can win. We can. We can win, but we gotta do the things that it takes to win every night."
That includes max effort and competing hard enough in gut-check times such as a fourth quarter in the back-end of a back-to-back two days after a grueling four-hour practice. Even in the preseason. Because the preseason is the best time to break the bad habits that Van Gundy has repeatedly been saying the Pistons need to break.
"There are habits to change. When you've lost for a long time, you get into losing habits. Nobody wants to lose and a lot of times guys don't even realize the habits they've fallen into because they're still NBA players and they're playing well. It's really just playing it out. I think they want to change, it just has to be more consistent."
Breaking a player's bad habits is what Van Gundy has been known for. Read what Orlando Pinstriped Post's Evan Dunlap wrote two summers ago when the Pistons were looking for a(nother) head coach and he thought Van Gundy would make a good fit:
"If a guy blows a defensive assignment, Van Gundy will take him out. Guys can't skate by on talent alone: Van Gundy attempts to divest them of their bad habits, and only after they've done that will they earn a spot in his rotation."
The guy the Pistons hired to be their eye for talent seems to think the Pistons do have the talent to win contrary to what fans may think. How many games is unclear -- maybe Van Gundy's trying to convince himself more than the team. After all, he's never been in a losing situation before.
Saturday night was "a real step forward for us," said Van Gundy. After his second timeout, the Pistons erased a 12-point deficit and outscored the Hawks 30-14 the rest of the way.
A win that never would have happened last year.
Brandon Jennings admitted as much in the locker room after the game. "We would've definitely just folded. It would have gotten uglier and uglier," he said.
Even if it takes timeout after timeout, Van Gundy won't allow his team to fold.