By Will Burchfield
Through the first half at The Palace on Monday night, it was the same old story. Then Reggie Jackson rewrote the ending.
The beleaguered point guard, whose starting role has been called into question of late, dumped in 24 second-half points on 10/10 shooting to lift the Pistons to a 109-95 win over Bulls. It was as flawless and assertive a display as Jackson has staged this season.
“10 for 10 in the second half, can’t get much better than that,” said coach Stan Van Gundy. “He finished that up damn well.”
What was encouraging about Jackson’s game on Monday night, more than the production, even more than the efficiency, was the rediscovered aggressiveness. Instead of settling for outside jump shots, he drove hard to the rim and looked to break down the defense.
“It felt pretty good but that was where the gaps were, so I was just trying to attack and probe,” said Jackson, who tipped his cap to centers Andre Drummond and Aaron Baynes for drawing the attention of the defense and helping him find easy shots. “Like I said, the credit is to my teammates.”
Jackson’s teammates, of course, were happy to credit him.
“It (gives) us a whole different dynamic when he’s attacking the rim like that. Teams have to account for it,” said Jon Leuer, who quietly contributed 16 points. “When he plays like that, we’re really tough to stop.”
Jackson was particularly assertive in the fourth quarter. With the undermanned Bulls, missing both Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo, beginning to wilt, he attacked again and again off the dribble and scored 12 points over the final 5:35 as the Pistons pulled away.
“Reggie really played downhill today, he really played loose,” Marcus Morris said. “He got himself together, looked for his shot and was very aggressive. And he was still looking to make the pass. Reggie’s a great player, and it was good to see him really take over a game.”
A year ago, the Pistons built themselves on a pick-and-roll offense, fueled by Jackson and Drummond. They’ve gotten away from it at times this season, especially with Ish Smith excelling, but revived it on Monday night.
“Reggie looked very, very good playing in his pick and rolls,” said Van Gundy, “so I was happy with that.”
Jackson said things were especially smooth with Baynes on the floor.
“I play against him in practice all the time and it’s like running into a brick wall. When he sets screens like that, I know I’m really playing one-on-one with the big man and it’s a mismatch of foot speed. Just trying to get to places on the court to attack, whether it be for my shot or somebody coming over to make a play for my teammates,” said Jackson.
Through the first three quarters, Van Gundy continued his newly implemented strategy of alternating between Jackson and Smith for six-minute intervals. But when the former got hot, Van Gundy stuck with him.
“That was the idea, that we could just go with how the game’s going — and tonight, obviously Reggie had it going,” Van Gundy said. “It would have been crazy to pull him out at that time.
Not much earlier, of course, it would have been crazy to leave him in. Jackson was one-for-six from the field and had just two points when he was yanked midway through the second quarter. An all-too-familiar narrative was taking hold.
But when the third quarter began, Van Gundy stuck with him and his teammates stood by him.
“I thank them today for just backing me and riding me to the end,” Jackson said. “One of my better games, I believe, offensively and they were just egging me on — ‘keep going, keep going.'”
He rewarded them with a swift 180 in the second half and further evidence that he – and the Pistons – may be finally turning the corner. Detroit is up to seventh in the Eastern Conference and Jackson has now scored at least 20 points in consecutive games for the first time in two months.
“It’s been a tough year for me personally, but it’s going to be one of my better memories when I look back on basketball,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t change this time for anything. I’ve just had a blast so far with this team throughout the season, through our ups and downs, and I think we’re just hitting our stride at the right time right now.”