AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — John Loyer gave the Detroit Pistons some energy along the sideline in his NBA head-coaching debut. The team responded with an upbeat performance after the abrupt firing of Mo Cheeks.
Point guard Brandon Jennings led Detroit with 21 points and six assists, and the Pistons posted a 109-100 win over the short-handed San Antonio Spurs on Monday night at The Palace.
Loyer paced the sideline, barking out instructions and encouraging his younger players after mistakes as well as well-executed plays. It was a stark contrast to Cheeks, who preferred to sit and watch. Cheeks was fired Sunday after just 50 games as the head coach, even though the team won twice over the weekend.
“Being my first game, I have no style,” said Loyer, who recorded his first head coaching win since the 1999-2000 season, when he led Wabash Valley College to a 19-12 record. “I just do what I think is best for the team. There’s going to be nights when you need to sit there and let them play. And there are emotional nights and your guys need you a little more. We’ve got enough veteran guys who know what to do, but I just think a few of our guys need very positive reinforcement.”
Jennings was stunned and disappointed by Cheeks’ firing but felt Loyer’s communication skills gave the club a boost.
“They’re two different coaches,” he said. “One is loud, the other one is kind of laid back. They’re both great guys, especially Cheeks. He was like a father figure to me, and he’s definitely going to be missed. But this is the NBA, so I know how that goes.”
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey supplied 20 points off the bench, and power forward Greg Monroe contributed his 21st double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Detroit (22-29) won its third overall and fifth consecutive home game while tying the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit took control late in the first half and led by as much as 23. The Pistons were sparked by an opportunistic defense that produced 13 steals and forced 19 turnovers, leading to 26 points.
“I only thought there was about a three-minute period when (the Spurs) showed more energy and more determination than us,” Loyer said. “You show determination and hustle for 45 of the 48 minutes, you’re going to be pretty successful most nights.”
Guard Marco Belinelli, who missed the Spurs’ 104-100 win at Charlotte on Saturday due to back spasms, paced his team with 20 points. Despite 52.4 percent shooting, San Antonio (37-15) fell to 3-2 on its annual nine-game rodeo trip.
“They played with physicality and emotion,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Pistons. “I thought our defense was the worst we played all year during the first half. Mentally and physically, I thought we did not bring it, and they brought it for a variety of reasons and kicked our (butt).”
Forward Boris Diaw scored 12 points for the Spurs, who were without three injured regulars. Forward Danny Green, who sprained a knuckle on his shooting hand while scoring just two points, was also forthright about the team’s lack of defense.
“The biggest thing in our lapses was miscommunication,” he said. “We just weren’t communicating at all at times. The energy wasn’t there, the passion wasn’t there. We were kind of dry and dead.”
Jennings sparked a 15-5 Pistons run at the end of the first half, giving them a 59-48 halftime lead.
Detroit’s momentum carried over to the start of the second half, as a 14-4 spurt bumped the lead to 73-52. The Pistons carried a 92-72 lead into the fourth, and San Antonio never got closer than nine points.
“Certain events happened that are beyond our control, but we were able to come out and focus on playing basketball,” Detroit forward Josh Smith said. “We came out with a big win against a great team.”
NOTES: The Spurs were missing C Tiago Splitter (right shin contusion), SF Kawhi Leonard (right hand fracture) and SG Manu Ginobili (left hamstring tightness). … San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Ginobili, who has missed seven games, won’t play against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. “He’s not touching the floor until after the All-Star break,” Popovich said. … Along with head coach Mo Cheeks, the Pistons also fired assistant coach Maz Trakh on Sunday. Rasheed Wallace, who is in his first season as player development coach, will take a more prominent role and sit courtside, instead of behind the bench. … Detroit won for the seventh time in its past 11 home games against San Antonio. … The Spurs are the league’s only undefeated team in games decided by three points or fewer, 6-0.
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