The Golden State Warriors treated the Detroit Pistons like most NBA watchers — as an afterthought. No-offense Stanley Johnson is a starter? Cute. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson the linchpins of the offense? How well did that work for you last year? Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gone? Weren’t they your two best players?
Detroit, however, decided playtime was over. Andre Drummond took the offseason seriously. He got needed surgery to improve his breathing, worked on his free-throw stroke and stopped with the silly post ups.
Reggie Jackson got healthy, but he also decided making his teammates better was more satisfying than playing the hero. Avery Bradley made fans forget about KCP and Stanley Johnson is playing stout defense and hitting shots.
All those elements led Detroit to an amazing 115-107 victory over the defending champs in their own building Sunday night.
The Warriors, however, needed to learn this wasn’t the same old Pistons team. Golden State was burning the nets with hot shooting all night, much like they expected. It was all coming so easily on offense that Golden State fell into one of the only traps they are prone to — getting cute.
Crazy passes, lazy dribbling, pushing so hard they got out of control. It led to a lot of turnovers and the Pistons were turning them into points. No matter how many times Steph Curry hit a crazy jumper or Kevin Durant won his one-on-one matchup Detroit wouldn’t back down. They kept grinding and hitting shots themselves.
Even in moments when Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson seemed unstoppable the Pistons remained in striking distance. Even when JaVale McGee was blocking Andre Drummond’s shot they kept fighting.
Reggie Jackson seemed to be the only source of Pistons offense early in the game. Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back where he was certifiably toxic last season, Jackson was cooking early. He was slicing through the defense, hitting floaters and making passes.
Jackson had 18 first-half points and somehow the Pistons were down just 57-52. Where Jackson took over the game in the first half, Detroit finally started to play some defense in the third quarter.
Anthony Tolliver, Reggie Bullock and Andre Drummond played some sharp defense just as the Warriors decided they need to take it out of first gear. With two minutes left in the third period Detroit made the run they needed to turn it into a real game
Avery Bradley hit a 3, Anthony Tolliver hit all three free throws, Reggie Bullock stole the ball and coasted in for a finger roll layup. Then after a Curry turnover Anthony Tolliver hit a tough fade away jumper to give the Pistons an 82-81 lead after three.
It was turning into a real game and then Ish Smith went to work. He started the fourth with eight quick points thanks to his relentless movement and willingness to improvise and create something out of nothing. Suddenly it was 92-85 and the Oracle crowd was getting restless.
The Warriors then decided it was winning time. They locked in on defense and turned the offensive pressure up to 11. But the Pistons wouldn’t back down. A heady Stanley Johnson picked off a pass from Klay Thompson and went in for the dunk to put the Pistons up 98-88 with just under seven minutes to play. To put that in perspective, Johnson had three dunks ALL OF LAST SEASON.
Johnson followed that up with a 3-pointer and Detroit turned what was a 13-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
Something special was brewing.
That’s when Kevin Durant decided he wasn’t interested in losing. Durant hoisted a pair of silky smooth 3-pointers to cut the lead to seven. A huge dunk, an assist on a Klay Thompson 3-pointer and a pair of free throws later and Durant had singlehandedly brought the Warriors within two with 3:39 to play, a raucous Oracle crowd and all the momentum in the world.
But these weren’t last year’s Pistons. It was still time to grind. Harris, who struggled all game, drove the lane hit the shot and sunk the and-one free-throw. Durant answered by getting himself back to the line to keep it a three-point game. The teams traded a pair of baskets and the Pistons had the ball in the one-possession game with just under two minutes to go.
The Warriors clamped down on defense but Detroit wouldn’t quit. Harris again delivered with a huge arcing rainbow three from the top of the key that splashed in to put the Pistons up six. Then Bradley decided to truly ice the game with the most Avery Bradley steal you’re ever going to see.
Curry walked the ball up to set up the half-court set with a minute to go. Bradley fought through a screen and stayed in Curry’s shirt. He used his off-hand to reach around and poke the ball away from Curry. Bradley then fought through to keep the ball in bounds, take possession and go in for the layup to put the Pistons up eight points.
Thanks to persistence, a lot of ball and player movement and timely defense that created turnovers, Detroit was able to steal one in Oracle Arena.
In the process, the Pistons moved to 5-2 with solid wins against the Warriors, Clippers, Timberwolves and Hornets — all prospective playoff teams. Today, the Pistons sit alone atop the Eastern Conference standings. Yes, it’s early, but even now you can tell this team can play. The Pistons are winning, yes, but more importantly they are showing everyone that they are for real.
This isn’t the same team that you saw play in a daze most of last season. They have fresh blood, a healthier Reggie Jackson, a focused Andre Drummond, dangerous 3-point shooters and a will to win.
And with a victory over the defending champions, they made sure that the rest of the NBA would stand up and take notice.