It’s no secret that this year’s version of the Detroit Pistons has lacked leadership the entire season. The team’s de facto leaders Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson aren’t nearly vocal enough to will the team, and the constant and often deserving berating from head coach Stan Van Gundy falls on deaf ears.
That’s why March 9th’s victory against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers was so refreshing. We finally got the leadership we needed.
“He is a man of very few words,” said Andre Drummond, “so when he does say something, it gets everybody’s attention. When he got going and said what he had to say to us on the bench, it really struck a match and got us going.”
That man is Marcus Morris.
Down 27-12 and on the wrong end of 20-2 run in the first quarter, the Pistons already started to look defeated. Many figured it would be one of those nights where the Pistons just mailed it in and allowed the much better team to coast to victory.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy was almost at a loss on what to say to his players, fearing that the “tough love” messages he had been sending all season long were wearing thin. That’s when ‘Mook’ Morris stepped up.
“He just put his hand on my shoulder,” Van Gundy recalled, “and said, ‘I got this.’ And he really went after guys, challenging them to just go back in the locker room if they didn’t want to compete. Really, really did a good job, and then we came back and got ourselves in the game.”
Coming out of the timeout, the Pistons closed the quarter on a 10-2 run. Not only would they go on to cut even deeper into Cleveland’s lead, but they would eventually come back to win the game 106-101.
Now, it’s way too easy and cliche to suggest Morris’ speech in the first quarter is what led to the next three quarters of inspired Pistons basketball, unless it is the players themselves that say that.
“We weren’t playing the way we should, we weren’t prideful, we weren’t holding ourselves accountable,” said point guard Reggie Jackson, “and that’s something he was honest about. I think we all locked in and listened and took constructive criticism.
“It really was just about us getting down and being Detroit, being nitty-gritty and attacking this game like we had some pride. To that point, we really weren’t showing up the way we should, so he let us have it and I think it kind of sparked us.”
The language Morris used, though? Probably something your mother wouldn’t approve of.
“Beep, beep, beep. He had a lot of F-bombs in there so, you know, he’s going to need to go to church on Sunday with me,” said forward Tobias Harris.
“But he definitely set the tone for the team and it’s no secret that right after that the lead starting changing, we started cutting it back a little bit and we found good energy and good flow. You need moments like that to push your teammates, so that’s a big (display of) leadership from him and for our team. That was huge.”
Give some credit to Van Gundy as well. His assessment of the team being more apt to tune him out than Morris was spot on.
“It’s a different accountability when it comes from a player, especially someone that you put the work in with each and every day, a guy that you stand tall with throughout the entire season,” said Jackson. “When your brother on the court, your brother in arms, holds you accountable, it’s different than when your coach or your boss does it.
According to Van Gundy himself, having a player give a speech like that to the team, especially during a timeout, has been an anomaly for the Pistons this season.
“But in fairness to our guys, I don’t really give them a lot of opportunity,” said Van Gundy. “They’re coming into the timeout, I jump right in and — boom. I think it’s more effective when they sort of hold each other accountable.”
What was going through the mind of the man at the center of the tirade? Be tougher.
“I think more than likely, it was just seeing,” Morris said, stopping himself. “We are a good team, and at times people come in and and they kick our ass. I think we was just laying down before the game started.
“I told guys, if they don’t want to play to stay in the locker room. That’s really what it came down to.”
“I just didn’t like our energy, the way we came out,” Morris said. “The beginning of the game, my emphasis on (playing) a grown-man’s game. If you not willing to compete and come out … I was serious when I said, ‘Stay in the locker room.’
“Ya’ll didn’t get to see it, but it was ugly. Sometimes you’ve got to do what you gotta do.”
“I hope they would take it to heart,” Morris said. “I didn’t talk down to nobody. I was just trying to motivate. These people out here deserve to see us playing hard. They deserve to see us come out and compete every night.”
“I felt like we responded really, really, really well. Maybe I’ll do it a little bit more.”
The Pistons will likely need more of this on-court leadership if they want to continue climbing up the Eastern Conference playoff standings. They currently sit a game behind the Indiana Pacers for the sixth seed and are three and a half games back of the Atlanta Hawks for the five-seed. The Pistons have 16 games left to make up their ground, so if there was ever a time for more leadership, it’s now.