Good teams win ugly. And the Pistons played one hell of an ugly game Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.
And, hey, they won 111-104. Maybe these 9-3 Pistons are a good team after all.
The Pistons seemed off all night, even as they built a 19-point lead early in the game. Detroit had 17 turnovers and were missing wide open looks at the rim and from deep all night. They shot only 43.8 percent on the night and let the Hawks shoot nearly 50 percent.
But, again, they won.
They won thanks to a vintage Reggie Jackson — and everything good and bad that goes along with that. Jackson was quiet most of the night but exploded in the last 50 seconds and the game tied at 100.
Jackson hit back-to-back 3s (thanks to a lot of dribbling and no passing) and free-throws late to put the game away.
Andre Drummond, meanwhile, hit some clutch free throws of his own and notched 16 points, 20 rebounds and a career-high seven assists. A game after going 0-of-7 from the free-throw line, Drummond hit 4-of-6 from the charity stripe and made a more convincing case that he’s truly solved his free-throw woes.
The point Drummond experiment hit a bump in the road, however, as he had six turnovers and the offense ground to a half in the second half as Dre did a lot of ball handling but little facilitating.
Still, the Pistons won.
If you’d only heard Stan Van Gundy after that game, that might surprise you. He sounded like an extremely unhappy and frustrated coach.
“They totally outplayed us in the second half,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve gotta be honest with ourselves.”
Too many turnovers, not enough passing and leaky defense at the point of attack in the pick and roll.
Asked if he thought being tested like this while still getting the win could be a good team for the team, Van Gundy was quick with the reply.
“I don’t know that it ever helps to play poorly.”
It was just a strange, off night for just about everyone. Avery Bradley missed some bunnies, Luke Kennard got lost on defense, Reggie Bullock was mostly invisible, Langston Galloway looked human and Anthony Tolliver missed three really clean looks from deep.
Thank goodness for Tobias Harris and Ish Smith. The two came to play tonight. Harris hit 4-of-5 3s and was always there with a timely basket when it looked like Detroit was going to let the game get away from them. Smith, meanwhile, had a season-high 17 points and added five assists.
Smith’s and Harris’ workmanlike performance in the first three quarters was what set the stage for the Reggie Jackson takeover in the fourth.
Jackson scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including eight in the final minute. He didn’t really get his teammates involved, but he didn’t need to.
He was hero ball Reggie. He had the ball at the top of the key and way too much space between himself and Kent Bazemore. Jackson casually dribbled himself into a rhythm and buried the shot to put the Pistons up 103-100. On the ensuing possession, Jackson found John Collins switched onto him. He dribbled out to the 3-point line and hit the dagger.
Jackson relishes those shots, but when he puts his cape on he is prone to turn his court vision off. He was mostly guilty of that as well, but an underrated play was a slick pass deep into the paint to an open Andre Drummond under the basket.
Drummond missed the gimmie dunk (one of several point-blank misses from Detroit) but was fouled after a small push to his back.
Atlanta hadn’t led since the score was 9-7 but had whittled a late eight-point lead to a tie game. The Hawks were making their run and another empty trip from the Pistons could have been the death knell.
With the score tied at 98, Drummond calmly walked to the line and hit both free-throws. It was the appetizer for Jackson’s entree of a fourth quarter takeover.
The Pistons now find themselves at 9-3 with a +4.6 net rating (sixth best in the NBA). Yes, Friday night was an ugly win. But it was a win. It’s what good teams do.