Stan Van’s reluctance at the trade deadline has proven to be the right move as the Pistons seem to be hitting their stride
By: Bogart Lipe
Late in a game last Thursday night, the Pistons played some of their best basketball all season. The home game against the Cavaliers had the intensity of a playoff game, a rare occurrence at the Palace during the regular season, and the Pistons came out on top 106-101. SVG made the decision to once again start Tobias Harris, and initially it did not help the team overcome their early game woes. The Cavs easily jumped out to a 27-12 lead, behind a few flashy LeBron dunks and many other easy baskets. Then, something happened. Marcus Morris, after signaling to Van Gundy “I got this” during a timeout, lashed out at his teammates and plainly challenged them as men. He told them if they didn’t feel like playing that they should simply go back to the locker room. They responded, as they cut the deficit to seven after the first and actually led by three at the half, although they again went down seven heading into the fourth. Then we got to see what this team really can be when they are clicking. In the last quarter, Reggie Jackson scored 12 of his 21 points, and Andre Drummond (20 points and 16 rebounds on 10/13 shooting on the night) made many important plays, including a magnificent sprawling offensive rebound and put back late in the game. The two teams traded blows for about 4 minutes, and the Pistons held strong, eventually led by a late Reggie jumper to ice it. The team followed it up with a blowout win against the lowly Knicks, in which Tobias started again and scored 23 in the first half and 28 for the night to help the Pistons get back to .500 for the first time since December 16th.
Now the Pistons face the final stretch of their regular season, as they try to climb up the standings and catch the 6th seeded Pacers, and if things go right, the 5th seeded Hawks. After a 3 games in 4 nights challenge against the Cavs, Jazz, and Raptors, the schedule softens up considerably. Although the Pistons will play 11 games in 18 nights starting tonight against the Cavs, once again, the last 8 games of the 11 are against many subpar teams. Only one of the eight are playoff teams, and matchups against the pathetic Suns, Nets (twice), and Magic loom. Coupled with what now appears to be a healthy Reggie Jackson, the Pistons are setup to start peaking while heading towards the end of the season.
Reggie has been noticeably quicker, more decisive, and smarter with the basketball than any point this season. He’s also again having a considerable impact in the box score. In his last 5 games, Reggie is averaging 18.6 points and 5.2 assists on 53% shooting and 50% from 3. The Pistons won 4 of the 5, and have gone 12-6 since February 1st, a top 5 record in the league in that period of time. A healthy Reggie has clearly changed how the Pistons operate, and lately his chemistry with Andre on the pick and roll has slowly started to return back to their form of last year. Dre is playing incredibly well of late too, as he has had 15 or more rebounds in 6 of the last 8 games, and has shot 50% or better in 10 of the last 11. It will be interesting to see whether or not Tobias will continue to start, but he will provide a spark no matter when or with whom he plays. Marcus has played inspired basketball the last month and even Stanley Johnson has settled perfectly into his role of defensive menace and slasher. The last key piece for the team is KCP, who has struggled during the same stretch as Reggie has excelled. KCP only has two double digit scoring nights in the last 6, and has two games with 5 points or less. His value on defense cannot be overstated, but for the Pistons to truly reach their potential, the backcourt will need to play well together on offense. He will have his chance to get back on track during the aforementioned easy upcoming schedule, and the Pistons hope he can hit another hot streak like he did a few weeks ago when he helped the Pistons win important games late in the fourth quarter.
Stan Van Gundy has exclusively made good decisions during his time with the Pistons, and he keeps making them. The decision to trust the roster he assembled has proven to be the correct decision thus far. Reggie is back to the Reggie we knew (and whom some of us loved), Dre is playing like an All-Star again both on the glass and in his offensive role, and everyone else is starting to accept and perfect their roles. Marcus Morris calling out his teammates may, best case, trigger a new passionate attitude for the Pistons, but at the very least it could serve as a catalyst for other players to challenge each other. Stan Van admitted he thought his constant negative attitude might have started to wear on the team, so the way the Pistons responded to a new voice, a voice of a teammate, is not surprising. The next 16 games will decide the Pistons’ playoff fate, and if anything, we know Stan Van is the man to trust with the reins.