In a game where Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Austin Daye were the Pistons’ best offensive options, Rip Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince combined to shoot the ball 38 times compared to just 27 shots for the much more efficient, better-shooting options on the team.
Earlier this week, Prince was quoted saying, “Even our wins don’t feel like wins.” The Clippers game was a perfect example of why that is. It’s becoming pretty clear that Prince, in particular, doesn’t have much interest in ceding the ‘primary option’ role even with evidence pretty clear, at least offensively, that the Pistons are more fluid when he is not dominating the ball.
Now, in this particular game, things worked out. Hamilton, Stuckey and Prince struggled the entire game shooting the ball, then all three hit huge shots in the fourth quarter to tie it, and then made plays in overtime to come away with a 113-107 win over the Clippers.
It was a needed win, but not a win that gave any clues as to how some of the growing whispers of chemistry issues will get worked out.
This sequence epitomizes why the “What the hell is wrong?” questions keep coming up. In overtime with about two minutes left, the Pistons got an offensive rebound. It got tossed into Prince, who was posting up on the wing, but didn’t necessarily have great position. John Kuester called a timeout, presumably to get a better shot. Prince reacted like he was surprised that a timeout was called, then he tossed the ball down, then he slumped his head and shoulders down, then he slowly crept to the bench. Now Prince has never been the boisterous, emotional type out on the court, so maybe it’s nothing. But the Pistons had just gone up two and got the ball back in a game they really needed to win, and there just wasn’t a sense of excitement from Prince or anyone really. You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking if they were winning or down 30.
The Pistons picked up their first road win of the season, it was hard-fought, entertaining and I don’t mean to take away from that. Even if the body language constantly looks emotionless, it’s not like guys aren’t playing hard. Prince had a great save under the Clippers basket in overtime. Hamilton hit a key shot in regulation to tie it. Stuckey had a nice drive and finish with a foul to get a three-point play in overtime.
Maybe if they can pick up a win at Sacramento on Sunday and repeat their earlier season performance against Golden State on Monday and come home with a successful trip against, other than Portland, some teams that are very beatable, that’ll reignite some of the passion that seems to be lacking. But the win against the Clippers, while important, didn’t do much to disprove some of the feelings Prince expressed in his quote.
Stuckey could take a lesson from Bledsoe
Earlier this week, Dan Feldman wrote a post defending the organization’s loyalty to the Stuckey-as-point-guard experiment, with the premise being that athletically and physically, Stuckey is the prototype of the ‘new breed’ of NBA point guard. He might not get it, and with each season, it’s become more likely that he won’t get it. But whatever chance there is left that he can put it together as a point guard/playmaker is a potential high reward if it works out. Stuckey has had flashes this season of really competent point guard play, and those have occurred when he’s been fearlessly attacking the basket, pushing the ball up quickly on makes or misses and not over-thinking the “should I shoot or pass?” situations too much. He just goes out and plays his style. That’s the same thing that Eric Bledsoe, another strong, young and explosive point guard did for the Clippers. Bledsoe made some mistakes, particularly early with some turnovers (forced by good defense by Stuckey), but it was his aggressiveness that helped the team get back in the game and take the lead in the second half. The Pistons have a pair of really fast point guards in Stuckey and Will Bynum. They don’t have to be a fast-breaking team, but why not take advantage of their speed? Bledsoe continuously running the ball up caused the Pistons defense to get on its heels and he created several open looks for shooters Eric Gordon and Rasual Butler.
Start sweating the little things
With the Pistons up nine and only about five seconds left in the first quarter, the Pistons allowed Eric Gordon to drive coast-to-coast and get a layup just before time expired. With the Pistons up 10 and Gordon shooting a free throw for the Clippers with one second left in the first half, Gordon missed the free throw and Craig Smith got an offensive rebound and put-back as time expired to cut the lead to eight. With less than nine minutes to go in the game and the Pistons up two, Jason Maxiell fouled Gordon on a short jumper, Gordon made the shot and Maxiell picked up a technical on the play. Four-point swing for no reason. Those are all things that, on their own, seem relatively minor. But they also represent four or five free points that teams just can’t afford to give up when they constantly play close games.
Nice defensive switch in fourth
Eric Gordon terrorized the Pistons in the fourth quarter, so it was no surprise with the game tied the Clippers would put the ball in his hands to try and win it. Kuester made a nice adjustment (one that would’ve been interesting to see earlier in the quarter, but better late than never), switching Prince onto Gordon that possession. Prince’s length bothered Gordon, who isn’t very tall for a shooting guard, he stumbled trying to get around Prince and lost the ball.
Those pesky third quarters
Once again, the Pistons came out of halftime after a good start and lost a lead. Coming into the game, the Pistons were averaging a -5.9 point differential per third quarter, third worst in the league. That number will get worse after they were outscored 27-17 against the Clippers.
A big reason the Pistons have had third quarter troubles is they are relatively easy to make adjustments against. The Clippers halftime adjustment was simple: play defense. Maybe don’t give Gordon, Villanueva and Daye a five-foot cushion to shoot threes. In the third, the Clippers closed out on shooters much better, the Pistons stopped getting open jumpers and players were forced into having to create more, something that no player on the roster is really good at doing on a consistent basis.
Daye’s two halves
Daye was the story in the first quarter. He finally wasn’t overmatched defensively by an opposing power forward, as the Clippers started hybrid forward Al-Farouq Aminu for the injured Chris Kaman. Daye scored nine points off the bat. But there was a common way he was scoring those points: he was either catching and shooting, or he was taking no more than one dribble and elevating for his shot.
In the second half, he turned the ball over twice in the third quarter because he started to over-dribble. Daye isn’t quick off the dribble. He’s great at getting to a spot he’s comfortable shooting in just one dribble. But when he tries to post up and back someone down or when he tries to face up and drive past someone, he’s ineffective. Daye’s not a creator right now. If he can’t get his shot quickly, he needs to kick the ball back out.
His shot looked great again, and he’s more and more assertive in taking it each game, but he does have to strike that balance where he’s confident enough to shoot, but not so confident that he begins to do more than he’s capable of with the ball.
Maxiell gets Monroe’s minutes
Maxiell had a nice performance after being buried on the bench a little for a few games. He was physical with Blake Griffin (the two got in a couple tangles where some elbows were thrown wildly by both guys) and he was active on offense, hanging out around the basket and scoring on some dump-offs. His minutes came at the expense of Greg Monroe.
Monroe didn’t play in the first two games because Kuester didn’t feel like he had been playing with enough energy. Then, Monroe started getting some minutes and responded with really solid production. Now, the last two games, he’s kind of disappeared again. Against the Clippers, he was really tentative in the few first half minutes he played. He caught the ball inside and instead of going straight up strong against the defender, undersized forward Craig Smith, he did a pump fake, allowed the defense to recover and didn’t get a good shot off, although he got fouled.
Inconsistent energy was a knock on Monroe in college, so it will be interesting to see how the Pistons manage his ups and downs. Against the Clips, he didn’t bring it in his stint in the first half, so Maxiell replaced him and took the minutes in the second half that had been going to him.
Villanueva for Sixth Man of the Year?
One positive to take away from the early season is that the Pistons seem to finally know how to use Villanueva. He was in and out of the rotation a bit last year because Kuester wanted some (any?) effort on defense from him. This year, Villanueva has responded. He’s not ever going to be a traditional big (as evidenced by his one rebound against the Clippers). This year though, he’s shown a willingness to at least put his body on people. He’s drawn charges this season, something I don’t ever remember seeing him do much last year. He’s blocked a couple shots. And the one skill that he brings that is really useful — scoring — has been more consistent so far. Villanueva has been in double figures off the bench in eight of nine games.
He’s still streaky, it would still be nice if he’d rebound just a little bit, but he comes off the bench every night as a matchup problem for the opposing team, and he’ll be among the Sixth Man candidates by season’s end if he keeps up the effort.
Love for Love
Not Pistons related, but check out what Kevin Love did last night. And based on the highlights, at least a few of his boards were courtesy of Darko misses. You’re welcome for him, Kevin.