AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – The Detroit Pistons are a much-improved team after Joe Dumars rebuilt the roster once again over the summer.
That doesn’t mean they are ready to knock off teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Detroit played the Thunder tough into the third quarter Friday night, but Oklahoma City’s superior depth took over down the stretch, especially once Andre Drummond and Josh Smith got into foul trouble. Rookie Steven Adams finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow post reserve Nick Collison had nine points and four rebounds in a 119-110 victory.
“We were just trying to keep it simple and try not to make mistakes,” Collison said of his partnership with the New Zealander. “I thought we were really locked in defensively. It was a different situation than most nights, but our bench played really well.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks thought his entire second unit played a key role in the victory.
“Nick, Steven, Derek (Fisher), Jeremy (Lamb) and Reggie (Jackson) did an outstanding job,” he said. “They gave us a great effort, they moved the ball and took care of it. Steven and Nick did a really great job of playing together and understanding what we needed them to do. They protected the paint and they took care of the pick-and-roll.
Detroit’s biggest problem, though, was trying to stop Kevin Durant. Their only hope of that was Smith. He sat out large portions of the second half and Durant finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“We weren’t hitting shots and they were hurting us on the offensive glass, but it is really hard to adjust your lineup to fix those things when you are facing Kevin,” said Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks, who spent the last four years as an assistant with the Thunder. “You always have to have someone on the floor that can guard him, so that limits your options when you want to change things.”
Smith finished with 25 points for Detroit before fouling out, while Greg Monroe (20 points, 15 rebounds) and Brandon Jennings (22 points, 11 assists) added double-doubles.
“It’s always tough against that team, but especially when you get into foul trouble,” said Monroe, who found himself playing with Kyle Singler, Gigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko instead of Drummond and Smith. “They kept making plays, and they kept getting to the free-throw line. It is hard to win games like that.”
Leading by 10 early in the fourth, the Thunder struggled to put Detroit away. The Pistons got within 88-84, but didn’t have an answer for Durant down the stretch. Smith committed his fifth foul trying to guard him with 5:07 left, and Durant hit both free throws to give him 30 points and move the Oklahoma City lead to 101-89. Smith fouled out moments later, and picked up a technical foul on his way off the floor.
Oklahoma City threatened to break the game open in the second quarter, leading by as many as 11 as the Pistons continued to struggle to score from outside. Jennings and Monroe, though, combined for 10 points in the final two minutes of the half, pulling Detroit within 55-51. Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 27 points in the half, while Monroe had 13 points and eight rebounds for Detroit.
The Pistons went ahead on back-to-back three-point plays by Monroe and Smith midway through the third, but Smith immediately committed his fourth foul and had to join Drummond on the bench. Six straight points by Durant forced Drummond back in with four fouls, but Lamb’s 3-pointer at the buzzer let Oklahoma City take an 84-76 lead into the fourth.
Westbrook scored 20 points despite missing 14 of his 19 field-goal attempts.
NOTES: Detroit Tigers President Dave Dombrowski had one of the best seats in the house, sitting courtside just two spots away from the halfcourt line. … Cheeks got an enthusiastic pregame welcome from the Thunder. Durant grabbed Cheeks in a playful headlock, while Thunder coach Scott Brooks and several players rushed over to embrace him. … Durant earned a spot on the nightly blooper reels when he lost his grip on the ball while driving for a baseline dunk. As Durant’s empty hands came down on the basket, the ball looped over the Pistons bench and into the stands.
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