The Blake Griffin era in Detroit is off to an awesome start

Yes, it’s early, and the sample size is small, and the competition’s been more middling than monstrous, and the full truth of what the deal’s wrought won’t snap into sharp focus for a few more years. Still, all caveats considered: this whole Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons thing sure looks pretty friggin’ good so far, huh?

The Pistons smoked the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, 111-91, to win their fourth straight game and their third in a row since Griffin boarded a plane and brought his five All-Star berths, dicey medical record and nine-figure contract to Detroit. They led from the midpoint of the first quarter on, stifling the high-scoring backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (34 combined points on 32 combined shots). They got dominant play from their own one-two punch, with Griffin (21 points on 9-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds, six assists) and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Andre Drummond (17 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, one steal) having their way on the interior against Portland’s overmatched frontcourt rotation.

Griffin’s grabbing the ball off the rim and getting off to the races, and the mammoth Drummond’s reaping the benefits of riding shotgun:

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Detroit’s running offense through Griffin early, taking advantage of his ability to draw defensive attention and spray the ball around to shooters, or to take advantage of lackadaisical closeouts by popping a jumper over the top:

And when he goes to the bench, or when Stan Van Gundy wants to go another route, they’re going back to running things through Drummond, who has tripled his assist rate this season acting as a dribble-handoff facilitator operating at the elbows, and who can still determine a possession as a screener even if it doesn’t end with him flushing an alley-oop at the rim:

Thirty-six assists for Detroit, a season-high, on 44 made field goals; 15 3-pointers, two off a season high, in 30 tries. The big men are sharing, with each other and everybody else. The wings are moving, eager to get open, get theirs and give back. Anthony Tolliver, the god, is dunking and splashing, en route to 13 fourth-quarter points to put the game on ice and keep it there.

“I didn’t really think we moved the ball that much at the start of the game, but then we really got it going,” Van Gundy said after the game. “The best part is that you look how many guys got involved — it wasn’t just one or two guys with a bunch. Once you start moving the ball, it gets contagious.”

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, left, and forward Blake Griffin jump during player introductions before the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, left, and forward Blake Griffin jump during player introductions before the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Griffin (20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, six assists per game since arriving) and Drummond (18 points, 17.3 rebounds, three assists, 2.7 steals, 2.7 blocks with Blake in tow) are clicking; Detroit’s plus-36 in 63 Blake-and-Andre minutes so far. The new starting lineup — Griffin and Drummond up front, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock on the wing, Ish Smith on the ball — has outscored opponents by 15 points in 49 minutes, despite some shoddy shot-making, by moving the rock and clamping down, limiting opponents to just 85.1 points per 100 possessions on 39.8 percent shooting.

Smith, Tolliver, Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard are all stepping confidently into the open spaces created by sharing the floor with a couple of supersized talents, and shooting the lights out when they can breathe that fresh air. Johnson’s been a chaos demon, making life miserable on smaller scorers, swatting shots, running the floor and making plays.

Since Griffin’s arrival, Detroit has outscored its opposition by 12.3 points per 100 possessions, tied for the fourth-best mark in the league over that span, and has gotten back to .500 at 26-26. They’re making the most of their advantages — a long homestand to get Griffin integrated, a soft pocket of the schedule, the Blazers coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, etc. — but you don’t have to apologize for doing that. A heartbeat ago, the Pistons were in the midst of an eight-game downturn and staring down the barrel of another wasted year; now they’re a tiebreaker out of the No. 8 spot in the East, and just three games out of fifth.

There’s still time for the skeptics to be right: for the Griffin trade to turn into a swing-and-a-miss in both Detroit and Los Angeles, for Blake’s contract to be the final nail in Van Gundy’s coffin, for the Pistons’ new era to fizzle on the court and on the bottom line. Right now, though, it looks like Van Gundy and company have gotten what they paid for: a superstar playmaker who can bulldoze his way to the basket, who can set the table for his teammates, who can make life easier for the incumbent All-Star, who can energize a fan base and who, with third man Reggie Jackson also getting closer to returning, can offer a reason for optimism in the Motor City.

It’s early yet, but it’s working, and it’s pretty damn fun to watch. In the depths of the NBA winter, that’s not nothing.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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