Detroit — It started out as a “welcome back” game to Blake Griffin, in his first time playing at Little Caesars Arena since being bought out this month and joining the Brooklyn Nets.
It finished as something different, with Griffin playing the role of villain. In between, it was a chippy matchup against some of his former teammates, with a slew of technical fouls and an ejection.
Beyond all that, Griffin had 17 points in 20 minutes — including a dunk — and the Nets pulled out a 113-111 victory on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
It was a wild game that including rookie Isaiah Stewart being ejected in the first quarter after a couple of run-ins with Griffin.
In the second encounter, Griffin looked to connect with an elbow that caught Stewart in the head. Stewart seemed to retaliate, and he was called for a flagrant-2 foul and ejected from the game.
“They’re a hard-playing team. I don’t know if you expect to get elbowed, but I knew it was going to be chippy,” Griffin said. “That stuff doesn’t bother me; it’s part of the game.”
After a video review, Griffin also got a technical foul but stayed in the game, and he played well after that, while still getting under the skin of several Pistons players throughout.
Coach Dwane Casey didn’t want to discuss any of the incidents with Griffin.
“To talk about somebody else’s players, I’m not going to do that,” Casey said.
The game was just as good as the subplots, though.
The Pistons (12-32) trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, when the Nets’ James Harden (44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists) scored seven straight points for a 92-82 lead at the 9:46 mark. Frank Jackson answered with a pair of free throws and he scored eight straight Pistons points, between a pair of 3-pointers by Tyler Johnson.
Griffin caught an alley-oop from Harden, which drew some boos from the fans at LCA, Saddiq Bey (14 points) hit a 3-pointer. The Pistons started a rally with a drive by Cory Joseph, who made his Pistons debut, and Frank Jackson (14 points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers to trim the Nets’ lead to 102-101 with 4:51 remaining.
The Pistons kept the pressure on by getting to the free-throw line, but Joseph split a pair of free throws, as did Grant. Bey had a chance at a three-point play, but he missed the free throw, along with a chance to take the lead.
Harden, who went 14-of-30 from the field, converted a three-point play on the other end, and the Nets kept the lead for the rest of the game.
Joseph had a chance to tie it on the final possession of the game, but he couldn’t get the shot to fall on his drive to the rim.
“We got the win, but we don’t feel great about it,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
The Pistons played a tribute video for Griffin during a timeout in the second quarter, and Griffin’s first appearance back at LCA drew some cheers and boos from fans throughout the game. It started when he was introduced when he first entered the game, then when the antics started, there were more boos.
As more incidents and spats occurred, more fans booed Griffin, who played in 20 games this season with the Pistons before agreeing to sit out until he could find a new destination. He reached a contract buyout agreement with the team this month and has played in three games with the Nets since joining them.