By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – Even in the first half, when the San Antonio Spurs (37-15) kept superstars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on the floor, the Detroit Pistons (22-29) looked remarkably solid in a 109-100 win Monday night.
“To be honest, I was a little bit worried coming into this one … new coach, San Antonio, you can’t never take San Antonio lightly,” Pistons guard Brandon Jennings said, “but we actually really showed what we’re capable of doing.”
Five Pistons scored at least seven points each in the first half, and that balance helped Detroit carve out a 59-48 halftime lead. Jennings led all scorers in the first half with 14 points, while Josh Smith only shot four times and made back-to-back attempts, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went on a mini-run himself, knocking in three straight baskets.
Detroit ended the first half on a 15-5 run. The Spurs had turned the ball over just twice in the first quarter but recorded seven giveaways in the second. San Antonio shot better from beyond the arc in the second quarter after going scoreless from 3-point range in the first, but Detroit also improved in that area, knocking in four of seven 3-point attempts in the second quarter.
Even as they built a sizable lead in the second half, up to 23 points, the Pistons never let off the gas. That thrilled interim coach John Loyer.
“I told the guys today, just when we were in the locker room, I was so proud of them,” Loyer said. “My only thought – there was about a three-minute period to where they showed more energy, more determination than us. If you show determination, hustle, for 45 of the 48 minutes, you’re going to be pretty successful most nights, so I told the guys I thought that was a big key.”
Detroit enjoyed offensive contributions across the board – 21 points from Jennings, 20 from Rodney Stuckey, 15 from Greg Monroe, 14 from Andre Drummond, 12 from Smith, 10 from Kyle Singler, nine from Caldwell-Pope and eight from Will Bynum. Perhaps more importantly, though, the Pistons made scoring sufficiently difficult for the Spurs, who boast the second-highest field goal percentage in the NBA.
San Antonio also has the best 3-point shooting percentage in the league, but Monday the Spurs converted on just 5 of 17 chances from beyond the arc. Overall they shot 52 percent, but limiting the 3s turned out to be enough, particularly late when San Antonio tried to make a comeback.
“Our guys really honed in on that,” Loyer said. “When you put up on the board ‘number one 3-point shooting team in the league,’ if you don’t run some of those guys off, as you saw down the stretch, they don’t make shots for the majority of the game, but they’re capable of making them. I think of Josh Smith running Bonner off. Quite a few guys – Kentavious. I thought our guys followed the plan that we set out for them, did a super job.
“We made [the Spurs] work for their shots,” Loyer added later. “They got a few down the stretch. I probably was poor coaching. I told them we don’t want to give up any 3s, we’ll take contested 2s, and maybe we didn’t contest their 2s enough, but I thought with that type of lead, really only 3s could beat you. You’ve got to be a defensive team, whether you’re built to play defense or built to play offense, depending on what lineup we have out there. But you’ve got to do both. To win on a nightly basis, though, you better be solid defensively. That’s something we’ve got to improve on.”
As the Pistons recorded their third straight win, their fifth victory in seven games, it looked as if some definite improvement was already in progress. A post-game comment from venerable Spurs coach Gregg Popovich showed a begrudging appreciation of Detroit’s approach.
“They played with physicality and emotion,” Popovich said. “I thought our defense was the worst we played all year, in the first half. Mentally and physically, I thought we did not bring it, and they brought it for a variety of reasons and kicked our ass.”