Blake Griffin played like a five-time All-Star in his Detroit Pistons debut, and his teammates did just enough to squeak by the woeful Grizzlies.
Griffin racked up 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in a 104-102 victory on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena. He was acquired Monday from the Los Angeles Clippers in a blockbuster trade involving six players and two draft picks.
The Pistons were plus-23 with Griffin on the court. He played 35 minutes. Reggie Bullock contributed 15 points and Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond scored 14 apiece. Drummond scored 10 fourth-quarter points but was benched for parts of the closing minutes.
The Pistons have won two straight games following an eight-game losing streak. Marc Gasol led Memphis, which missed its last 10 shots, with 19 points and 14 rebounds.
The lottery-bound Grizzlies led 94-90 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. Griffin put the Pistons on top 98-96 with two free throws after blocking a Dillon Brooks shot. Gasol tied it again with two free throws as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy subbed out Drummond for Anthony Tolliver.
Andrew Harrison made two free throws before Tolliver hit a 3-pointer off a Griffin kickout to give the Pistons a 101-100 lead with 1:49 left. Following some empty possessions, Gasol missed a jumper while guarded by Griffin. JaMychal Green’s putback rimmed out, then a mad scramble for the ball ensued.
A jump ball was called and Tolliver won the tap against Brooks. Tolliver was fouled with 6.2 seconds left and made two free throws to help put the game away.
Tolliver purposely fouled Wayne Selden with the Grizzlies out of timeouts and 2.6 seconds left. Selden made both free throws despite wanting to miss the second. Bullock then hit one of two free throws and Gasol missed a halfcourt shot.
Griffin’s impact evident
Griffin made a difference right from the start. He grabbed the team’s first defensive rebound and scored its first basket, an off-balance bank shot in the lane.
He scored nine points in the opening quarter, then provided a spark in the second after the bench allowed Memphis to take a seven-point lead. He dribbled down the floor, drew a crowd and fed Drummond for a layup. He then knocked down a 3-pointer to complete a 9-0 run. He finished the half with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Griffin scored the Pistons’ first basket of the second half on a mid-range shot. He scored seven points in the quarter, allowing the Pistons to maintain a slim lead with Drummond on the bench with foul trouble.
Stanley heats up in second half
Stanley Johnson followed up the best outing of his three-year career with a poor first half. That didn’t shake his confidence, as he regained his perimeter touch after the break.
The third-year forward posted a career-high 26 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday when the Pistons snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 125-114 win over Cleveland. Johnson scored just two points during the first half Thursday but finished with 14.
Save for picking up a technical after being called for a foul, Johnson was invisible in the opening quarter. He got more involved after returning in the second quarter but only made a layup in four shot attempts.
Johnson perked up in the third quarter, draining a pair of 3-pointers, two midrange jumpers and two free throws. He didn’t score in the fourth quarter, though he did make a key steal.
Reed, Johnson wait their turn
Griffin wasn’t the only ex-Clipper to make his Pistons debut.
Center Willie Reed entered the game early in third quarter after Drummond was whistled for his fourth foul. Reed played five scoreless minutes and grabbed a rebound. He also picked up three fouls trying to guard Gasol, but he did force Gasol into a travelling violation.
Reed appeared in 39 games with the Clippers this season, mostly off the bench. He’ll battle Eric Moreland for playing time, though Griffin will also get some minutes at center.
Forward Brice Johnson, the other player the Pistons acquired in the deal, was also in uniform but didn’t play. Johnson only played 38 minutes with Los Angeles this season and will be used sparingly.
Flu bug depletes staff
There was a little more elbow room on the Pistons bench. No fewer than five assistant coaches were absent, mainly due to the flu bug.
Assistant head coach Bob Beyer, Malik Allen, Rex Walters and Charles Klask were all recuperating from illnesses, and Tim Hardaway Sr. attended a funeral. That left Aaron Gray and Otis Smith the only assistants to help out Van Gundy.
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