HOUSTON - Seated on the Detroit Pistons bench, Marcus Morris wasn’t the least bit surprised by the developments on the Toyota Center floor.
There was Boban Marjanovic controlling the paint.
The promising rookie, Henry Ellenson, was finding ways to put the ball in the basket and come up away with clutch rebounds.
And there was the forgotten prospect, Stanley Johnson, making winning plays in crunch time.
And on this night, the Pistons' developmental squad kept the franchise’s faint playoff hopes alive.
With Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy waving the white flag on the season, he allowed Johnson, Ellenson and Marjanovic to finish the game against the Houston Rockets.
The trio delivered in the 114-109 victory at the Toyota Center when the Pistons finished off the Rockets with a 39-22 fourth quarter.
“They played a hell of a game, a hell of game,” Morris told the Free Press late Friday night.
“I knew Henry was going to play well, he’s going to be really good. He’s going to be special and I’ve said that since I’ve met him. We all know Stanley has the ability. He hasn’t had the type of season he wanted to have, but it’s good that he can finish out strong and go in to the off-season on a positive note.”
Morris didn’t mention Marjanovic, but the 7-foot-3 giant spoke for himself with a career-high 27 points and 12 rebounds.
All three were front and center during the Pistons' surge.
Ellenson scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the first start of his career, and his two free throws allowed the Pistons to pull within 105-103 with 1:51 left.
Ellenson admitted to a few nerves, but once the game started they were a thing of the past.
“To be honest, (there were nerves) right away like when the game had not even started yet, ready to get going, but as soon as that ball was up in the air and jumped, I felt real comfortable out there and just playing basketball," he said.
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Marjanovic converted an offensive rebound into a lay-up to tie the game at 105 with 1:28 remaining.
Johnson, who has had an unimpressive season, scored 10 of 13 points and added four assists in the fourth quarter.
He knocked down two key three-pointers – the last one gave the Pistons (36-43) a 110-107 lead with 32.4 seconds left.
Johnson, while happy for the performance, reminded reporters it was too late.
“Honestly, it’s a low note as we’re looking down on the playoffs,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be hard for me to sit at home in early April and watch basketball. I’m really disappointed, but you have to win today.
“I just try to go day-to-day and finish off the season and see what happens.”
After Rockets star James Harden missed a three-pointer, Johnson extended the Pistons lead to 112-107 with 15.7 seconds left to send Rockets fans to the exits.
“They were playing a lot better than the other guys,” Van Gundy said of his finishing group. “I think that was pretty obvious from the whole night that was the group that was playing well so that’s a pretty easy decision.
“You also want to see how they respond in that situation and how they handle it. I thought it was good in terms of learning experience, but they’re the guys that got us back in it. They deserved to finish it. All you got to do is look at the plus-minus and see who was playing well and who wasn’t and they deserved to finish it.”
Ish Smith added 20 points, as the Pistons fended off 33 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds from Harden.
The Pistons remained ever-so-slightly alive for a playoff spot by virtue of the surprising victory and the Miami Heat losing Friday night at Toronto.
The Pistons had lost 10 of 12 games going into Friday night.
The Rockets (53-26) rocked the Pistons with seven three-pointers in taking a 30-24 lead after the first quarter, but the Pistons received a boost from Marjanovic, who at one point scored eight straight points.
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