The Detroit Pistons have had an eventful year, to say the least.
Between the roster, coaching staff, and playing style, so many areas of the franchise have undergone complete overhauls in the calendar year. Detroit’s number-one option and up-and-coming forward Tobias Harris was shockingly moved for the established – albeit injury-prone – All-Star Blake Griffin just a month into the year in an effort for former head coach Stan Van Gundy to save his job. Immediately, the Pistons’ offense was completely reinvented, as anything and everything the Pistons have done on offense runs through the do-it-all big man. Alas, Van Gundy’s time in Detroit still ended, as even the addition of Griffin wasn’t enough to carry Detroit to a back-end playoff spot.
In the summer, the front office also experienced a change in nearly every area. Ed Stefanski was hired as a senior adviser, which has basically turned into a de-facto general manager position. After the surprisingly-not-surprising firing of head coach Dwane Casey following his Toronto Raptors’ underwhelming performance in the postseason once again, the Pistons were able to scoop up the reigning Coach of the Year on a long-term deal. The jury is still out, but I haven’t seen enough from this year’s Pistons to feel any more optimistic about this team than last season.
The Detroit Pistons have gone through all these changes, yet one thing has remained the same – this team is still average to slightly-above-average, at best. I won’t get into the specifics when it comes to Detroit’s woes on the court, as this piece is supposed to reflect on the good moments from this year, and despite the continued mediocrity in the Motor City, there are still plenty of those.
Stanley Johnson Puts on a Show in Cleveland – January 30, 2018
You can say it however you want, but Stanley Johnson hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations set for him when he was selected eighth overall in 2015. Similar to his fellow Detroit draftee Luke Kennard, he will constantly be compared to the talents who are outperforming him that were selected later in the draft. (Justise Winslow, Devin Booker).
Arguably the most frustrating thing about Stanley Johnson, though, is that he isn’t a bust. Don’t take that the wrong way, obviously you never want a player that’s drafted for your team to disappoint, but the University of Arizona product is a unique commodity. Johnson could have a string of off-games, games that may make you want to curse the regime that drafted him over a certain star guard in Phoenix; it could be the very next game, however, that Johnson will look like a completely different player, flashing confidence and potential throughout the contest. It’s a frustrating cycle for the young forward and fans alike, as he just can’t put it all together consistently enough to justify being anything more than a super-sub. Johnson’s performance in a late-January contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers is a prime example of one of those games, where he just looked unstoppable.
Johnson finished the game with a career-high 26 points on 10-17 shooting from the field, along with 10 rebounds in the 125-114 home victory. He also added four assists and two steals, putting on full display both the extent of his offensive and defensive talents. It’s a shame Stanley hasn’t fully been able to put it together because there are nights like these where he looks like a bonafide starting option.
Blake Griffin’s First Game as a Piston – February 1, 2018
Blake Griffin is easily the biggest star that has resided on Detroit’s roster since the Goin’ to Work crew of the mid-2000s. He might even be a bigger individual talent than the team-centered All-Stars that brought Detroit to six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. So admittedly, the Pistons’ matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies – Griffin’s first appearance as a member of the team – was intriguing, to say the least.
I was lucky enough to attend this game, and for the most part, it looked near identical to what we’ve gotten used to seeing from the Pistons now, except worse. You wouldn’t normally expect those words to be used to describe a win, but without a proper playbook used to support Griffin’s strengths, the Pistons resorted to a post-up isolation play with their newly-acquired All-Star most times down the floor.
Fortunately, the Pistons were playing a Mike Conley-less Grizzlies team that had already lost hope for playoff contention, sitting at 18-33. Despite Memphis keeping it close or even leading for most of the game and overall sub-par play from a team getting one more shot at playoff contention, the Pistons were able to pull out a 104-102 victory backed by Griffin’s solid performance: 24 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in what would be his first game of a likely half-decade long stay in Detroit.
Blake Griffin Scores Career-High 50 Points in OT Win Over Sixers – October 23, 2018
We’re not even halfway through the 2018-19 NBA season yet, and I would bet the house that this performance will still go down as the best game of the season.
Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid battled again, with the latter easily outperforming his matchup again, unfortunately. Drummond even fouled out on a, um… more than questionable call towards the end of the game. There were plenty of great performances from other Pistons, however, with Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, and, of course, Blake Griffin all having fantastic games.
What’s to love here? The fourth quarter comeback, the late three-pointer from JJ Redick that made you say “this one’s over” before realizing it wasn’t, or Blake Griffin putting on full display his new-and-improved playstyle to the tune of a career-high 50 points made this one a game for the ages.
Not to mention, this victory also kept the Pistons undefeated at 3-0 to start the season, a time that feels like a far cry from how the team is playing now, barely grasping on a playoff spot. Notably, Blake’s performance was also the first of a string of 50-point games for the NBA as a whole, as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, LeBron James, Kemba Walker, and most unexpected breakout performer on the list, Derrick Rose.
Fourth Quarter Comeback, Bullock’s Game-Winner Sinks Raptors – November 14, 2018
The Toronto Raptors are currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, as it is evident how much of an upgrade Kawhi Leonard has been for the team. That said, the Pistons had no business upsetting the Raptors with a hostile crowd surrounding in coach Dwane Casey’s return to Toronto.
The Raptors controlled most of the game, carrying a 12-point lead into halftime and continuing their dominance for the majority of the third quarter as well, leading 85-66 with just over three minutes left in the quarter. The game seemed lost, and the Pistons would’ve had to have accepted their fate – losing a game they were supposed to lose.
The Pistons’ resilience in the fourth quarter amazed everyone, especially the fans that had turned off the game prior to the second half. Whether it was Blake, Langston Galloway, Ish Smith, or Reggie Jackson, points were being scored in bunches in the fourth and Toronto could only keep up just enough to remain in the game. Tie-game, ball-in-hand, Kawhi Leonard came up with one of the most unorthodox turnovers from a superstar in recent memory – as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year dribbled the ball off himself, giving the Pistons the final possession in regulation.
A missed shot from Glenn Robinson III was rebounded by Andre Drummond and a timeout was called with just enough time on the game clock for a quick shot. With the Pistons taking the ball out under the hoop, a picture-perfect out-of-bounds play was run to set up a Reggie Bullock game-winner, giving the Pistons and Casey a huge win against a title contender.
Reggie Bullock Scores Career-High 33 Points in OT Win Over Timberwolves – December 19, 2018
If you watched the entirety of this game, you know the kind of roller-coaster this game was for the Pistons. Barely watchable for the first three quarters, Detroit would go on to score 40 points in the fourth quarter and hit nine three-pointers, outscoring Minnesota by 14 to send the game to overtime.
That very well may be the best quarter of basketball we see from the Pistons all season, as it looked like a completely different team on the floor for those last 18 minutes (including overtime).
Blake Griffin was fantastic, finishing with 34 points and 8 rebounds, while Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond also contributed big games with 24 points and 6 assists and 16 points and 16 rebounds, respectively.
Drummond also made maybe the most ridiculous three-pointer you’ll ever see – with the shot clock ticking down, in overtime, nothing but net:
The real story here, however, was Reggie Bullock, who shot lights out to lead the comeback and broke the career-high he set in the previous game with 33 points. As one of the best team performances of the year when it was all said and done, we can only hope for more performances like that fourth quarter.
The Pistons have had some great highs and devastating lows throughout this year, and we can only hope that the team progresses towards more highs than lows rather than the opposite.
Hopefully, these moments that span through both the 2017-18 season and 2018-19 season become more of a formality rather than a surprise in the near future.
Featured Image – (Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)