Pistons and Rockets learn relying on Tracy McGrady not a winning formula

Tracy McGrady was the Pistons’ most important player tonight.

The thousands of Rockets fans who booed McGrady know how that story ends. For years, they couldn’t rely on him. Neither could Detroit tonight in a 97-83 loss.

Unlike Houston fans, Pistons fans shouldn’t resent McGrady, though. He fought valiantly and did the best he could. The loss isn’t on him.

The loss is on the rest of the team for putting the Pistons in a position where they needed to rely on a role player whose conditioning prevents him from playing big minutes.

McGrady – joined by Ben Gordon, Austin Daye, Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe* –  led the Pistons’ 19-5 run in the first 6:16 of the second quarter. McGrady controlled the tempo on offense, making the smart passes that ensured Detroit took good shots. Defensively, he was always in the right spot, collecting three rebounds and drawing a charge.

*John Kuester hasn’t changed the starting lineup much, and he stuck with a rotation that wasn’t winning for too long. But credit him for experimenting the last few games. That lineup looks nothing like what Detroit had shown so far this season.

After McGrady left the game, the Rockets promptly went on a 6-0 run. The Pistons looked lost offensively and defensively, turning the ball over twice and allowing a layup, dunk and two free throws.

McGrady returned 1:34 later, but the damage was already done. The Pistons’ rhythm and poise had completely disappeared.

The Rockets’ 6-0 run became a 20-2 run and gave them a nine-point halftime lead. The stretch was UGLY. It featured:

  • The Pistons shooting 0-for-11 from the field (their only two points were McGrady free throws).
  • Detroit turning the ball over four times (a rate of more than 33 turnovers per 48 minutes).
  • Richard Hamilton picking up two technical fouls (his third ejection of the season, but more on that later).

I figured the game was essentially over at halftime. But with McGrady on the court, Detroit crept back into the game in the second half.

McGrady even dribbled into a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring to bring the Pistons within one with 8:17 left in the game. That’s as close as they got, because as I said above, you can’t rely on a on a role player whose conditioning prevents him from playing big minutes to carry you to victory.

McGrady, who played 23 minutes tonight (well above his season average of 16 minutes per game), simply ran out of gas shortly after that 3-pointer.

Shane Battier baited McGrady into fouling him on a made runner, and McGrady charged over Luis Scola on Detroit’s next possession. Battier may have pushed McGrady more than the other way around, and Scola showed great awareness by beating McGrady to the spot.

After both plays, McGrady, who had done nothing but make similar savvy plays all night, just smirked.

But the Rockets had the last laugh.

Richard Hamilton needs to get his act together

John Kuester has stood up to Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey this year. He needs to do the same with Richard Hamilton.

I’m not sure it will happen.

When Kuester was hired, he said his first action would be attending to Hamilton’s wedding. Kuester spent plenty of time during his introductory press conferences praising Hamilton.

I’m sure Michael Curry’s dysfunctional relationship with Hamilton played a role in Kuester’s comments. The Pistons fired Curry because he lost the team, most notably Hamilton. Kuester was surely trying to avoid a similar fate.

But the time has come to push back. Hamilton is embarrassing the team, and he needs to realize he’s embarrassing himself.

Hamilton was ejected for the third time this season. That’s as many games this year as he’s:

  • Scored 18 points
  • Made seven shots
  • Made five free throws

That more games than he’s:

  • Dished five assists
  • Attempted six free throws
  • Made two steals

I don’t want to hear anything about the new technical foul guidelines, either. I don’t like them, but everyone else in the league has adjusted. By repeatedly continue to argue for long periods of time, Hamilton is punishing his teammates, not the referees.

Before last season, Hamilton talked a lot about wanting to be more of a leader. It didn’t really happen. Now, he’s acting like he’s completely given up on that plan.

He better get it together, because he has competition. If Kuester wants to admonish Hamilton, he has more backup than he did with Prince and Stuckey.

When Ben Gordon, starting the third quarter in place of Hamilton, made a 3-pointer for Detroit’s first points of the half, he sent a message – he’s capable of taking Hamilton’s minutes.

Replacing Richard Hamilton

Ben Gordon (37 minutes) and Will Bynum (four minutes) picked up Richard Hamilton’s playing time after he was ejected. Neither replacement impressed.

Gordon shot 3-of-11 and turned the ball over four times. Bynum missed both his shots and didn’t have any assists.

After his strong start, Gordon has come back to earth. Bynum didn’t do anything to prove he belongs back back in the regular rotation.

Austin Daye makes case for minutes

Although Will Bynum didn’t show he belonged in the regular rotation, Austin Daye certainly did. Daye scored 12 points (4-of-6 from the field, 2-of-2 on 3-pointers, 2-of-2 from the line) in 18 minutes.

I still think, long term, Daye is a small forward. Last year, he played shooting guard because he didn’t yet have the strength for the three. Now, all of a sudden, he’s a power forward?

Daye should regularly play a few minutes as a spot-up shooter when Rodney Stuckey is in the game. Merely the threat of Daye’s outside shot would open the lane for Stuckey’s drives.

Pistons’ pick-and-roll defense is lacking

Kyle Lowry (22 points and 12 assists) and Luis Scola (35 points and 12 rebounds) absolutely destroyed the Pistons on the pick-and-roll. Matt Dery explained why:

The #Pistons do ZERO talking on defense.. ZERO. Rip on Rasheed all you want.. but he communicated and called out screens and he talked!

John Kuester’s quip

Maybe it was only because of his perfect deadpan delivery, but John Kuester had what I thought was a good line after the game:

“I’m amazed Kevin Martin could get 15 free throws. I didn’t know he was such a great post player.”

Three of those attempts came after Chris Wilcox fouled him on a 3-pointer, and three more came after Piston technical fouls.

That leaves nine free-throw attempts that came on typical basketball plays – not far from Martin’s season average of 8.3 free-throw attempts per game.

Sorry, Kue. This one isn’t on the refs. It’s on your team’s lack of discipline.

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Tags: Austin Daye Ben Gordon Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Tracy McGrady Will Bynum

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