Suddenly, Brandon Jennings has become one of the most popular players in Detroit sports.
When the Pistons beat Phoenix to start their six-game west coast trip, and then outscored Portland 41-11 in the final period to pull off a 120-103 victory, Jennings had been mostly forgotten. Reggie Jackson had scored 26 points in the fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers, tying a franchise record, and Steve Blake had played well in the victory over the Suns.
At that point, the Pistons were 5-1, and 2-0 on a road trip that still included games against the Kings and Lakers. Point guard was a strength and fans were ready to vote Stan Van Gundy as Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year and Governor of Michigan.
That was both only eight days and what seems like a lifetime ago.
The Pistons followed up the win in Portland with a trip to Golden State, with people joking about it being a preview of the NBA Finals. Detroit lost 109-95, but a lot of teams are going to lose by 14 points to the Golden State Warriors. The general consensus was that it didn’t go brilliantly, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played great defense against Steph Curry, so that was a positive.
Two nights later, when the Pistons lost to the Kings, it was a lot harder to find good things. Detroit gave up 36 points in the first quarter and spent the rest of the game playing hero ball in a futile effort to get things back on track.
“We don’t pass,” Van Gundy said on the postgame show. “Everyone wants to dribble the ball six times and look for their shot before they pass the ball. We didn’t come ready to play, and we thought we could save ourselves in the fourth quarter like we did in Portland, but you can’t play one quarter and win games on the road.”
At that point, Jackson hadn’t been singled out, but as the starting point guard, he was obviously not playing well.
“When we start playing at 18 or 16 (on the shot clock), it is tough,” he said. “That’s why we try to get fast-break points. It’s tough to score on any team’s set defense.”
Blake and Jackson combined to shoot 7 of 22 against the Kings, including 2 of 11 on 3-pointers, and things didn’t get much better on Saturday. Jackson and Blake took 17 shots as opposed to just seven assists and six turnovers. That doesn’t sound too bad against the Los Angeles Clippers, except that Chris Paul didn’t play, meaning they were facing Austin Rivers and Pablo Prigioni. Jamal Crawford went off for 37 points and eight assists, and the Pistons lost their third straight game, 101-96.
Next up, the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, it was the second half of a back-to-back, but it was a night game after a day game, in the same arena and against the 1-8 Lakers. The Lakers don’t even have a point guard, using the crippled carcass of Kobe Bryant to run the offense on most possessions.
Van Gundy dropped Blake from the rotation, replacing him with second-year point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. If that was supposed to send a message to Jackson, it didn’t work. He went 4 for 11, turned the ball over five times with just three assists, and was a minus-13 on the night.
When Jackson came back into the game with 9:50 to play, the Pistons led 72-69. Eight seconds later, he turned the ball over. Nick Young scored, and 11 seconds later, Jackson threw the ball into the crowd. Brandon Bass scored on the ensuing possession, and the Lakers were back in front. It had taken 41 seconds.
Jackson missed a three-pointer and Bryant scored to make it a three-point lead. By the time Van Gundy had yanked him back out of the lineup with 4:55 to play, the Pistons had been outscored 11-2. Dinwiddie scored five points down the stretch, but the Lakers picked up their second win of the season.
Van Gundy was disgusted by Jackson’s night.
“His decision making was terrible—he was trying to go behind-the-back, and he was up in the air,” Van Gundy said. “He just had a really bad night. The guy has had a heavy workload on this trip, and the two wins we got were largely taking him over late in the game, and I think he’s a little fatigued.
“Guys have bad nights, and he had an awful one tonight.”
Van Gundy acknowledged that he didn’t want Jackson back on the floor at all in the fourth.
“Spencer needed a rest. He went in with six minutes left in the third, and I wasn’t going to have him play 18 straight minutes,” Van Gundy said. “So I took him out, and look what Reggie did. Two quick turnovers, and then he tried to isolate and put up a bad shot. His decision making was just off, and we went back with Spencer.”
Jackson wouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse.
“I made bad decisions,” he said. “I’m not mentally tired or physically. I’ve just got to play better.”
After a red-eye flight Sunday night, the Pistons got a much-needed day at home before they face LeBron and the Cavaliers—a matchup where Detroit will need their $80 million point guard to step up.
Meanwhile, Jennings is sitting on the sidelines. He’s starting to practice, but he’s not expected to be back until sometime next month.