AUBURN HILLS — John Loyer didn’t try to reinvent the Pistons in his NBA coaching debut.
That turned out to be the best move he could have made.
Loyer was taking over a team that had won two straight games and four in a row at the Palace, so all he did was encourage them to keep doing what they had been doing.
"I can’t take the credit for this," he said after Detroit’s 109-100 victory over San Antonio. "The guys in our locker room did this. They went out there and set the tone for the game, and that’s why we got a win."
In a lot of ways, the Pistons looked exactly like the team that beat Brooklyn and Denver last weekend — the last two games of Maurice Cheeks’ tenure in Detroit.
Brandon Jennings kept playing well, putting up 21 points and six assists without a turnover, and Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combined for 29 points and 19 rebounds inside. Kyle Singler stayed in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey added 20 points as the sixth man.
There were a few changes, but they were subtle. Will Bynum was back in the rotation, playing 16 minutes after sitting out the weekend victories because of an on-court argument with Cheeks. He had eight points and two assists in his return, while Drummond was given a bit of a rest, playing only 26 minutes after logging 75 in the wins over the Nets and Nuggets.
There was one other difference, although it is too early to say if it was because of Loyer’s coaching or just something that happened in the flow of the game. Josh Smith, who is having one of the worst 3-point shooting seasons in NBA history, only tried one triple in the game. He missed, dropping him to 3-for-23 in his last eight games, but it was better than the 16 attempts he had put up in Detroit’s last four games.
Smith still didn’t have a good shooting night, hitting just four of 12 shots, but he was happy with the way the team responded to the coaching change.
"Certain events happened that are beyond our control, but we were still able to come out and focus on playing basketball," he said. "We came out with a great win against a great team."
Smith was impressed with Detroit’s energy, given the distraction of the coaching change and five games in seven nights, and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich agreed that it was the difference on the night.
"They played with physicality and emotion," Popovich said. "We didn’t bring it, mentally or physically, and they did. Give them credit. They went out there and took the game away from us. They kicked our butts."
Energy and hard work haven’t exactly been a hallmark of the Pistons in the last few years, something Loyer has seen first-hand as an assistant to both Lawrence Frank and Cheeks. He isn’t going to be able to make major roster changes in the last 31 games — he’s going to have to deal with the dysfunctional roster that Joe Dumars has built — but he is going to doing everything he can to improve the effort.
"I played for and coached for Bob Huggins in college, and the one thing he taught me was that a lot of this job is to get your guys to play hard every night," he said. "There are going to be nights when you don’t make shots and nights when you throw the ball away, but you can always play hard.
"I believe that’s a skill, and it is a skill that can be coached. I told the guys that I think we can play collectively for longer periods of time than we have been doing. We have to be able to dig deep and play hard, and they did that tonight."
The winning streak has moved Detroit back into a tie for the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot, and with only one game left before the All-Star break, the players know that they need to listen to Loyer’s advice.
"(Cheeks) was like a father figure to me, but the NBA is a business," Jennings said, "The second half of the season is about to start, and we have a chance to really make a push and get ourselves back into the playoff talk.