AUBURN HILLS — Reggie Jackson had two choices after Stan Van Gundy called him out at the end of Detroit’s six-game road trip.
He could pout in the corner, or he could figure out what was going wrong.
He chose wisely.
Jackson had 23 points and 12 assists in Detroit’s win 104-99 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, a victory that snapped the Pistons’ four-game losing streak. He finished the game with a flourish, knocking down six straight free throws in the final 22 seconds to keep Cleveland from getting a chance to regain the lead.
“Our defense down the stretch was great, and our offense at the beginning of the game was great, and that was pretty much all because of Reggie,” Van Gundy said, just two days after complaining about Jackson’s decision-making in a loss to the Lakers.
Jackson was active from the start, attacking the basket and either finding Andre Drummond off their trademark pick-and-roll or getting to the rim himself. When neither option worked, he was patient enough to find an open shooter on the perimeter or to reset the offense. Those were the exact things that he hadn’t done as Detroit went 0-for-4 in California.
“I just tried to be aggressive and decisive with my decisions,” he said. “I still had some turnovers, five, I guess, but I knew I just had to be aggressive and play my game and really be on attack tonight.”
Detroit badly needed Jackson’s playmaking ability early, as they weren’t able to stop LeBron James. James had his most famous single game at the Palace of Auburn Hills – the night he scored 48 points in an overtime postseason win – and in the first half, he looked like he might take a run at that total. He was over 20 points midway through the second quarter, and was hitting everything.
Van Gundy and the Pistons adjusted in the second half, running multiple guys at James to force him to pass, and watching as his teammates missed wide-open looks. Cleveland still led by 13 in the third quarter, but Jackson helped Detroit rally at both ends of the floor.
On one key fourth-quarter possession, Jackson was switched onto James on a pick-and-roll, which didn’t seem like a good idea. James has five inches and at least 50 pounds on Jackson, but the slender point guard held his ground between the league’s best player and the basket.
Finally, with the shot clock running down and James unable to make any progress toward the basket, he fired a wild pass to the perimeter that flew past Mo Williams and out of bounds.
“That’s probably one of the best games he’s played since he’s been in Detroit in terms of his energy, mixing his scoring, attacks, passes,” Van Gundy said. “You just couldn’t have a much better game than he had tonight and obviously finishing it off with the free throws. That’s a tremendous job.”
Jackson didn’t sign an $80 million contract for his defense, but he was happy to hear Van Gundy’s praise for the first time in a while.
“He said, ‘This was the best game you have played since you’ve been in Detroit,’” he said. “I’m happy that’s how he feels. It’s been a tough stretch these last four games for us; consecutive losses on the road, and we knew we were getting a really good team coming into our building.
“We wanted to protect our house and find a way to win tonight and I think we just battled all 48 minutes and found a way to do so.”
Jackson didn’t only impress his coach. Cavaliers coach David Blatt called him a “great player” and Drummond was watching as well.
“He did a really good job of attacking the defense and making them decide whether to guard him or to guard me,” he said. “He made it real tough on them tonight.”
If Jackson learns to do that on a consistent basis, Van Gundy will get a lot more sleep at night.