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.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.