(3-3) SUNS 92
- It only took 19 quarters, but the offense finally warmed up! Based on ESPN's shot chart for the game, the Pistons were 8-10 from the field in the 4th quarter. That and a myriad of free throws, both of the normal and the clock-stopping variety, helped the Pistons produce a 33 point quarter. They needed every bit of that, because Phoenix woke up their stagnant offense as well, scoring 29 in the final frame. Reggie Jackson was the crucial piece down the stretch in this one, going 4-4 from the field and scoring 14 fourth quarter points. He hit a deep three with 1:08 left that was so smooth it caused the Phoenix broadcast crew to suggest it had the effort of a layup. More on those guys in a little bit. The Reggie Jackson we got in the 4th quarter in this one was the Reggie Jackson you're fine with paying $80M over the next five years. He wasn't that guy for the whole game, but he dialed it up when it mattered most.
- It was a close game for most of the night, but Detroit controlled the action from start to finish. Phoenix had the lead for the first 8 minutes of the game. It was the only 8 minutes of the game where they had a lead. After falling behind 7-1, Detroit woke up, and an Ersan Ilyasova free throw with 7:13 left in the 1st put the Pistons up for good. Both teams looked inept for large stretches of the first half, but the fact still remains that Detroit was the better team for nearly the entirety of this game. Andre Drummond did all the things that Phoenix brought Tyson Chandler to town for, while making sure Chandler himself remained ineffective. Marcus Morris gave the Pistons the offense they needed, while making it very clear that Phoenix was moronic to move him for a 2nd round pick. KCP had himself a very good night, scoring 18 points on 10 FGA and making sure that the Suns' backcourt couldn't match his efficiency. Reggie Jackson dominated the 4th quarter, and the bench produced 21 points, finishing dead even with the Suns bench. Phoenix isn't a playoff team in the West, but they probably would be in the East. Detroit, while not blowing them out of the water, thoroughly showed that they were the better team on the floor.
- Marcus Morris is going to have himself in the running for Most Improved Player at this rate. Small sample size, but Morris has been impressive so far this season. He's been the Pistons' main source of offensive creation when things are bogged down. He has had two games where his efficiency wasn't there, but his shot selection has been much better than it was on opening night in Atlanta. That being said, he's only had one game this year where he had more FGA than points. He may take some less than ideal shots, but they're almost always with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock. His basketball IQ has been a very pleasant surprise. Through five games, Morris is averaging 17.8/7.2/1.8 on a 54.7 TS%. That does't seem wholly sustainable, but even if you knock him down a peg or two, the trade that brought him to town is still a massive victory. This current version of Morris would have been worth a first round pick. Oh, and based off of what I've seen, he's been a plus defender as well.
- Andre Drummond had a really rought night at the FT line. Drummond was only 2-13 from the stripe, and it got to the point where Phoenix felt comfortable doing the hack thing. He entered the night shooting an encouraging 57.6%, and left shooting 45.7%. That would still be a career high if he were able to keep it up for a full season. It is not the same as the positive feelings I had about how his free throws looked in the first four games. He does look more comfortable and confident, and his mechanics look better. I'm holding out hope that he can get to somewhere near 50%.
- Phoenix has the worst broadcast tandem in the NBA. As someone who is freshly removed from Michigan, I've had to resort to finding streams of the games. It was fine for the first week of the season since League Pass had a free trial and I could listen to the soothing tones of George Blaha and Greg Kelser. It was not fine last night, when all I could find was the Suns' broadcast. Every team has a pair of homers working the mics, but these two were over the top. I heard it all: Drummond is lazy, Marcus Morris is a loose cannon, they overpaid Reggie Jackson. On and on and on. On top of it all, they just didn't do a great job on the call. As someone who grew up watching Rod Allen cover Tigers games, I feel qualified to say that the announcing was horrendous.
- One more win at some point during the road trip, and the Pistons can't return home any worse than .500. They've still got games against the Lakers and Kings, and a matchup with a Blazers team that lost 4/5 of its starting five. I think we can all agree that we would've been satisfied with a .500 start after heading out west. I think we can also agree that we've raised our expectations after this start. I'll be a little disappointed if they come home any worse than 6-4.
Click "Read More" for tonight's Player Scores...
What is this? Similar to how the NHL hands out three stars after a game, I'll be handing out points to any Piston who saw at least 15 minutes of playing time. Just like in hockey, you want to be the 1st star, so getting 1 point is better than getting, say, 6. I do my best to watch all 82 games, but it's not always possible. I will make it known if I did not watch the game being graded. This takes as much into consideration as possible: stats, eye test, intangibles, etc. It's just how I saw things shake out. I'll keep a running set of standings updated at the bottom of every game recap; remember, the lower average the better.
1 - Reggie Jackson: With about six minutes left in the game, I had the spreadsheet I use to track my game scores all filled out for the night. Jackson was set to finish 4th at that point. He then went on to score 14 points in the game's final 14 minutes, sealing the deal on a 4-1 start for the Pistons. His play was extremely sloppy until that point, but Jackson was so dominant late that I'm going to disregard that. Detroit had nothing else working late, so I'll repeat: Detroit doesn't win this game unless Jackson takes over down the stretch. At the risk of being a party pooper, his turnover problems are reaching the point where they're starting to be concerning.
2 - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: I had KCP slated for the top spot until Jackson went off in the final stanza. His two-way game was stellar tonight. His offense helped set the tone early, and he was good all the way through, finishing with 18 points on 8-10 shooting. He also did a good job of chasing the Suns' dynamic guards, as it often seemed like he was in the back pocket of Knight and Bledsoe. He didn't stuff the stat sheet (2 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), but who cares? His 18 points came quietly, but if you were paying attention, you know he gave the Pistons what they needed tonight.
3 - Marcus Morris: 20 points on 14 shots, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and the gratifying reward of a win in front of an arena full of fans who loathe him. I was worried that Morris might play with too much emotion, but I thought he did a good job playing within the offense. It's clear that SVG (and the rest of the squad) turns to Morris when it's time for some instant offense. On top of his offensive output, the Suns only got a total of 10 points from their SF duo of PJ Tucker and TJ Warren.
4 - Andre Drummond: Drummond clearly outplayed Tyson Chandler in this one, holding the veteran to 4 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. Chandler is one of the few players in the league who can theoretically match Drummond's ability to get results above the rim, both offensively and on the glass. That didn't matter though, as Drummond notched a fifth straight double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds. A pathetic 2-13 night was the only thing holding him back from another solid scoring night.
5 - Steve Blake: Blake finally showed some signs of life, connecting on 3-6 from the field, 2-3 from deep and only turning the ball over once. It's unfair to expect Blake to perform to the level of someone like Lou Williams or Dennis Schroder. It's not unfair to ask him to produce at this level on a nightly basis until Brandon Jennings is back. This is all the Pistons need from him.
6 - Anthony Tolliver: In terms of things that you can see in the box score, Tolliver didn't separate himself from Ersan Ilyasova. In fact, he wasn't really all that good if that's all you're seeing. He was only 1-5 from three, scoring 4 points in total and grabbed 6 rebounds in 25 minutes played. However, he got more minutes than Ersan because he was more than a speed bump against Markieff Morris. Tolliver isn't a great defender, but he was much better than Ilyasova when it came to keeping the lesser of the Morris twins in front of him.
7 - Ersan Ilyasova: Ilyasova only played 21 minutes against Phoenix, for the reasons mentioned above. His defense left a lot to be desired, which has been the case quite a few times this year. It's not surprising though, we knew this when SVG traded for him:
"He was legitimately awful defending against pending shooters during the 2014-15 season. That should be a caution point to watch for during the upcoming season, and may cause SVG to get creative late in games if Ilyasova can't hold his own defensively against another team's stretch four."That was what I wrote in Ilyasova's acquisition piece, and that's what happened against Phoenix. (Also, look in the comments on that post, hat tip to Matt Buys for being way ahead of the game in regards to Ilyasova's ability to draw charges.) When his shots aren't falling (2-6 from the field), there's not much reason to keep him on the floor.
8 - Stanley Johnson: Johnson wasn't good tonight, but there were some bright spots. He had a really nice drive to the basket in the 3rd quarter. It was the kind of play that made me wonder why we can't see that type of thing more often. He was 2-5 from the field for 5 points, to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. The downside was, he turned the ball over three times and committed 5 fouls in just 22 minutes. I'm not ready to get too concerned about him just yet, for the same reason that it was silly for people to crown him the ROY after preseason and summer league. It's a long season and he's 19 years old; there are a lot of things he hasn't shown us yet, good and bad. Not based on anything tangible, but I feel like he's got a breakout game coming at some point on this road trip.