Ben Gordon for Jason Maxiell sparks up-tempo third quarter against Cavs

When Eli Zaret interviewed Rodney Stuckey after the Pistons’ win over the Cavaliers last night, the first question was about Stuckey and Richard Hamilton clicking together. Stuckey’s answered about how happy he was to push the pace and that he hopes the Pistons keep doing that.

I suspect that would have his answer no matter what Zaret asked first.

The Pistons are one of the league’s slowest teams, and I’m actually OK with that. I don’t love it, but there is merit to the style. Stuckey doesn’t see it that why, and I understand that for him. That doesn’t make their pace wrong for the entire team, though.

But – and this is an increasingly relevant but – when the Pistons go small, they still play slowly, and that’s a mistake.

A fast pace during small ball would allow the Pistons to take advantage offensively of having more quicker players on the floor and negate some of their defensive shortcomings.

In the third quarter against the Cavs last night, Detroit finally figured that out.

Lineup change

Ben Gordon replaced Jason Maxiell to open the second half – joining other-usual-starters Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace on the court. Anyone who saw lineups with Prince at power forward under Michael Curry probably was weary, and rightfully so.

But whether John Kuester realized it or not, he was swapping the Piston with the highest pace for the one with the lowest (excluding Chris Wilcox and DaJuan Summers). (Data from BasketballValue.com, starters in red, reserves in blue)

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You can see the reserves play faster than the starters, but for the most part, this passes the smell test. Stuckey is the fastest-playing starter, and McGrady is the slowest-playing reserve. Greg Monroe, who plays a lot of minutes with the starters, fits better with them than the backups.

Third-quarter speed

The Pistons had 30 third-quarter possessions, and the Cavaliers had 31. That’s a pace of 122.

For perspective, Detroit’s season pace is 91.7.* Minnesota leads the league with a pace of 101.3.

*Pace stats vary by site. I’m using HoopData’s here, because I think that corresponds most closely with my hand count for the third quarter.

The Pistons haven’t put together a game this year that looks anything like the third quarter.

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The Pistons weren’t great in the third quarter, but they were good enough. This year, that’s been a rarity. They outscored Cleveland, 27-21, in the period.

Sustainable change?

This was not only one of the tweaks in his rotation that Kuester has talked about, it was a significant change in strategy.

It helped that the Cavaliers matched up well with small ball. But when the Pistons went small in the past, they didn’t usually play faster, regardless of the matchup.

There is potential for successful playing this way against certain teams. I don’t want to see it every game, but it’s encouraging to know the Pistons have a weapon in their bag.

Tags: Ben Gordon Ben Wallace Jason Maxiell John Kuester Richard Hamilton Tayshaun Prince