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Defensive Woes Overshadow Return of Brandon Jennings

Dec 26, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings (7) before the game against the Boston Celtics at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday was supposed to be a big night for the Detroit Pistons.

Not only was Brandon Jennings returning to the floor for the first time since tearing his Achilles’ tendon in January, he was doing it in the perfect location – Madison Square Garden. In an ideal world, the Pistons will be showcasing Jennings for a trade, and the New York Knicks are considered a top contender for that move.

It isn’t that Stan Van Gundy doesn’t like Jennings or appreciate his abilities – he was playing very well when he got hurt – but Reggie Jackson’s five-year, $80-million contract makes him the point guard of Detroit’s future, and he and Jennings are too small to play together in a dual point-guard system.

Jennings did his job, putting up seven points and four assists in 17 minutes, but any feel-good factor was wrecked by his teammates. The Pistons allowed a season-worst 1.19 points per possession to the 19th-ranked offense in the NBA in a 108-96 loss, their third in a row.

“Every quarter 25 (points) or more…we bring nothing defensively. Nothing,” Van Gundy said in his usual low-key way. “That’s where our starters are right now – no defensive focus at all and no ability to stop anyone.

“I thought Marcus (Morris) fought pretty hard individually (against Carmelo), and I thought Pope individually on Afflalo fought pretty hard, but that was it for defensive effort I was happy with.”

The Pistons were playing well defensively in the first half of December, holding teams to 0.96 points per possession in a five-game stretch that saw them win four times. In their last seven games, though, that has jumped to 1.06 points – a difference of 10 points a game at Detroit’s current average of 100 possessions per game.

Since the day he arrived in Detroit, Van Gundy has made it clear that his feelings about offense and defense haven’t changed during his long coaching career. There will be days when you do everything right with the ball, get great looks and shots won’t fall, but you can always work hard on defense.

Given that, it isn’t a surprise to hear why he thinks the Pistons are struggling to stop teams.

“We didn’t try hard enough to win,” he said. “Give the Knicks credit. They played a lot harder than we did. A lot harder.”

Van Gundy didn’t have to be prompted to point the finger at the player that frustrates him beyond any other – Andre Drummond. Robin Lopez finished with six blocks and most of them came against Drummond.

“Lopez finished with six blocks. You know why?” Van Gundy asked. “Because he tried hard. He played a lot harder.”

Reggie Jackson couldn’t argue with his coach.

“We didn’t get stops all night – we have to be a team that holds teams to under 23, under 20 in a quarter,” he said. “We just have to be better defensively. At times, guys are playing hard individually but we’re not doing it as a team.”

On the other side of the locker room, Jennings was fairly content with his night, even if it didn’t come on a great night for the team.

“I was trying to get my teammates involved and try to get them going,” Jennings told The Detroit News. “Try to get as many good shots as we could. We got a bunch of good looks; we just didn’t knock them down.”

As for Van Gundy, he was happy as he could be after that performance.

“He was all right,” he said. “First time out there, he was all right. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad. He was OK.”

Jennings is expected to play again on New Year’s Eve when the Pistons host Minnesota. Van Gundy hopes that his teammates will join him.

Van Gundy and Jackson quotes from the FOX Sports Detroit postgame show.

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