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Pistons rise to the challenge in the second half to put away the Miami Heat

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Luke Kennard “fighting his butt off” in big second half

NBA: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy called it “one hell of a game.” That’s always easier to say after you win, but there was a lot to like as two quality Eastern Conference teams faced off at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Van Gundy called it the best game of his team’s season other than the win against the Golden State Warriors. Early on, though, the Miami Heat were doing one hell of a Warriors impression.

The Heat were driving, cutting and passing with surgical precision and it led to 11 made 3-pointers and a 58-55 halftime lead.

Last year’s team would have been halfway to their cars if they’d given up 11 3s to the Heat in one half, but this team fought and clawed and scraped its way to ONLY be down 3.

Miami came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, too, and in less than five minutes the Pistons were staring down a 73-62 deficit.

That’s when Detroit turned the defensive intensity up, the bench balled out and Detroit took control of the game.

On the ensuing possession Reggie Jackson found Avery Bradley in the corner for a 3, Justise Winslow bricked an easy dunk and Bradley ran to the other end and sank another triple.

The Heat couldn’t find any answers at the other end other than a few Hassan Whiteside mid-rangers and looks down low. Miami shot 29.7 percent from the seven-minute mark of the third until the end of the game and made just one of 13 3-point attempts.

The bench scored 38 points and turned the tide of the game. It was led by Luke Kennard, who played 17 consecutive second-half minutes as Detroit looked to find a spark on the wing. Kennard scored a career-high 14 points on the night, including nine in the second half. He made four of his seven attempts, but it wasn’t the shooting that most impressed Van Gundy.

“He had the great contest at the rim ... he came in as the low man on a rotation ... he got five defensive rebounds,” Van Gundy gushed of Kennard’s impact after the game. “He was in the battle tonight.”

Anthony Tolliver helped out, too, connecting on all three of his triple tries and playing some excellent defense, including as a small ball center after the Heat went ultra small late in the game.

Ish Smith scored 11 points, including a couple of mid-range jumpers and nifty drives to the basket. Importantly, he also committed zero turnovers.

Tobias Harris, meanwhile, remains Detroit’s most dangerous offensive weapon. Harris was hitting from deep on catch-and-shoot opportunities (making 5-of-8) and driving to the basket. Harris scored 25 points and even got to the free-throw line twice.

Avery Bradley played excellent defense on Dion Waiters in the second half and chipped in 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Reggie Jackson was hot early and helped keep Detroit in the game when Miami was hitting anything and everything. He finished the night with 17 points and four assists.

Andre Drummond had an off night, which Van Gundy attributed to playing the big man too many minutes since Jon Leuer has been out with an ankle injury. Drummond secured 17 rebounds in his 35 minutes but only had eight points.

Now the real test begins for Detroit. The win over the Heat gives them a 5-0 home stand and a 10-3 overall record, tied with Houston and Golden State for second best in the NBA. The Celtics won their 12th straight game and sit atop the league at 12-2.

But the Pistons play nine of their next 11 on the road. Their next three are against the Bucks, Pacers and Timberwolves. Then a one-game home stop against Cleveland before hitting road again against four dangerous teams — Washington, Philly, San Antonio and Milwaukee.

It doesn’t let up after that with a 3-game home stand against the murders’ row of the Warriors, Celtics and Nuggets.

What we can say is that through 13 games we’ve learned this Detroit team is for real. Over the next 16, we’re going to find out what they’re really made of.