Blake Griffin showed why he is one of the highest paid players in the NBA. He was virtually unstoppable in Detroit’s 118-116 win over the Chicago Bulls at the United a Center. Griffin scored 33 points including a 3-pointer, his fifth of the game, to put Detroit up 5 with a minute left.
It seemed to be a shot to ice the game. But a dumb Reggie Jackson foul put Justin Holiday at the line to bring the Bulls two points closer. Griffin then saw a shot dance around the rim but not fall. Zach Lavine then hit a step-back 3-pointer for his 33rd point of the night.
On the ensuing possession with all eyes on Griffin, Ish Smith and Blake executed a simple high pick-and-roll and Smith found an easy path to the basket for a driving layup to put the Pistons up two with five seconds left.
Lavine brought the ball up the floor with Griffin guarding him. He went up for a chance at a game-winning 3 but the ball seemed to slip out of his hands. Fittingly, Blake deflected it away and Smith volleyball spiked the ball down the court as the buzzer sounded.
The Pistons are, somehow, 2-0.
Detroit, however, could just as easily be 0-2 after facing two teams not thought to be in the running for a playoff berth.
The simple fact is that Detroit’s defense is absolutely dreadful so far, and I’m not sure how it’s going to get better. An Andre Drummond that is fully engaged and doesn’t foul out would be helpful. He quickly amassed fouls against Brooklyn and had the same issue against Chicago. Against the Nets it saw him visibly hold back on D — afraid to pick up additional fouls. Against the Bulls he simply fouled out and missed crunch time.
Drummond finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds to go with his six fouls.
The defensive issues go far beyond Drummond, however. Detroit allowed Chicago to score 58 points in the paint after allowed the Nets to amass 66. You’re not going to win many games giving up that many easy looks near the rim.
Having Griffin, as it turns out, covers for many sins.
He was everywhere on the court tonight. He could back players down for easy post-ups looks, he could use a quick spin move for driving layups near the basket and he even was able to use his combination of basketball smarts and athleticism for some quick-strike dunks in the half court.
When Bulls players came for the double team Blake could always find the open man on the floor. He was also able to play some pick-and-roll as the ball handler to either move the ball, drive to the rim or step back and hit a 3.
One of the beneficiaries of the strong play of Griffin was Reggie Jackson. Jackson, 18 points, hit four 3-pointers and a few came courtesy of Griffin feeds.
Stanley Johnson, however, struggled mightily in his first game of the season. Johnson was in the starting lineup after missing the first game with a toe injury and was awful for three quarters. He was 1-of-8 and a -23 entering the fourth.
When I saw him back on the floor for the final 7-plus minutes of the fourth I cringed a little. But Johnson was able to sink a key 3-pointer and scored 7 points in crunch time. I’d still rather start Glenn Robinson III but it was nice to see at least a little something out of Stanley.