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The Pistons are winning games because they’re playing defense (again)

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Not giving up 115 points a night leads to winning. Who knew?

Indiana Pacers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Earlier this season, I was pounding the drum that this Detroit Pistons team was giving up too many damn points to win — 117 points to the Atlanta Hawks?; 112 points to the Chicago Bulls?; 115 points to the Washington Wizards (yes, I am aware that the Wizards are a top-five offense — you know what I’m talking about). In the first 13 games of the year, the Pistons went 4-9 and allowing opponents to score 112.2 points per game. Their defensive rating (also 112) was 27th in the NBA, and it got so bad Dwane Casey resorted to a 2-3 zone (never forget, kids, #ZoneIsForCowards) to get guys talking and moving on defense.

That culminated in the Malik Monk game-winner against Charlotte, where the Pistons allowed 58 second-half points, and Dwane Casey had this to say after the game:

“We have to get better defensively, and we will,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re that situation because of health that it is going to take a little while for us to pull together, to be together, be on same page, get the same cohesion.”

After that, the Pistons had four days off (an oddity during the regular season), where I can only assume they ran three or four practices consisting of 90% defensive stuff. They got healthier. And... they stopped giving up so many damn points:

In the 11 games since those four days off, the Pistons are allowing a meager 103.5 points per game. Their defensive rating is 106.1, good for 10th in the league over the past 11 games, and on the year, the Pistons defensive rating is up to a more reasonable 109.4, jumping 10 teams to get all the way 17th in the league.

And they’re doing it in much the same way they squeezed their way to 12th in defensive rating last year - selling out to stop teams from taking threes, even at the cost of looks around the rim.

Even after this improvement, the Pistons are 24th in the league in paint points allowed. That’s not great. But they’re second in the league in three-point attempts allowed per game, and a sounds-about-right, can’t-say-they’re-just-lucky 17th in opponent three-point percentage. In the NBA in 2019, three is worth much, much more than 2, and the Pistons are defending accordingly.

It also helps that the Pistons are beginning to rebound the ball again - they’re up to 11th in rebound rate and winning the average rebounds per game battle (Detroit grabs 43.2 boards a game, and their opponents grab 41.3 rebounds per game). There, also, is perhaps one, long, skinny reason in particular that Detroit is better on the boards than they were earlier in this season.

I... don’t blame you if you question if this will continue:

We spent most of last season being befuddled that the Pistons were hanging around the top-10 in defensive rating with a starting backcourt of Reggie Jackson and Wayne Ellington. I spent (spend?) far too much time wondering to myself how the team could be as effective as they were defensively with only two quality perimeter defenders on the roster, only one of which was taller than 6-foot-4. But we have roughly 1.25 seasons worth of evidence that this group can be effective (not dominant, but effective) on defense by limiting opponent threes and relying on Andre Drummond to protect the paint and grab ALL the rebounds.

Until the Pistons trade for the 6-foot-8 ballhawking wing of my dreams, that’ll have to be enough. [Editor’s note: trust in Sekou ... just not this season]