Late in the Detroit Pistons’ 109-99 loss to Minnesota Friday, Fox Sports Detroit broadcaster George Blaha was talking about T-Wolves point guard Luke Ridnour and said, “Ridnour has a double-double tonight with 10 points and … oh wait, 18 points and 10 assists.”
The minor gaffe was indicative of just how poorly the Pistons’ defense on Minnesota’s guards was on the evening. It was so shockingly bad, it even caught the eternally optimistic Blaha off-guard. Ridnour doubled up his season averages, finishing with 20 points and 10 assists (he averages 10 and 5). Throw in Sebastian Telfair’s seven points off the bench and the spark he gave in the first half, helping the T-Wolves quickly erase what was a 13 point deficit, Wes Johnson’s efficient shooting and it all adds up to a really weak effort by the Pistons’ perimeter defense. Even Corey Brewer, who shot poorly at 4-for-14, was getting open looks all night, his shot was just not falling.
Coming into the game, I was worried about one matchup: whoever ended up guarding Michael Beasley between Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell. I felt that Prince wasn’t strong enough and Maxiell wasn’t quick enough. I wasn’t sweating Kevin Love, not because I think that Love is not a really good player, but because I was basically conceding the matchup. The Pistons gave up 35 points and 12 boards to Luis Scola and then 25 points and 6 boards to David West in consecutive games, so Love’s 27 points and 18 rebounds was no big surprise. Hell, he would’ve possibly challenged for another 30-30 night had he not been held to 1 point and 0 rebounds in the first quarter.
But Prince actually did a decent job with Beasley, holding him to 12 points on 6-for-14 shooting and helping get Beasley into foul trouble, limiting his time on the court. Prince forced him into taking jump shots most of the game, he contested them and he prevented the big streaks, where Beasley rattles off 8 or 10 points really quickly, that he has been known to go on this season. The defensive focus, however, affected Prince’s offense. He only shot 3-for-12 at the other end, and unfortunately, Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton were not up to the task defensively.
Stuckey routinely sagged off of Ridnour as he dribbled up court, giving Ridnour open looks at pull-up threes quite often. Here’s a hint: Ridnour, all 6-foot-0, 175 pounds of him, is not interested in taking it inside. And if you’re worried about Luke Ridnour driving past you to the point where you need to give him a cushion, well, you probably should not be defending any NBA point guard.
And Hamilton was poor defensively as well. He just wasn’t moving his feet at that end of the court, often just halfheartedly reaching at slashing players as they drove past him. To his credit, though, at least he played at the offensive end, scoring 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
Make no mistake: going 0-3 on this very easy three-game road trip is the worst stretch of the season. In 12 quarters of basketball on this trip, the Pistons lost 11 of them. They were only leading early in the Minnesota game because it took a while for Love to get heated up and, for some reason, the T-Wolves seemed committed to running their offense through Darko Milicic early. Once Love started getting the proper number of touches, the game wasn’t really competitive as Minnesota just methodically pulled away.
The Pistons are now 1-5 in December, and despite the presence of Toronto, the Clippers and the Bobcats on the remaining schedule this month, the Pistons have given no assurances that they can be all that competitive against bad teams, let alone good ones. If some drastic lapses in the team’s defensive intensity aren’t addressed, this might be the month the Pistons fall out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and that’s no easy task considering all the teams doing their best to fall out of that slot right now.
Darko’s seven easiest blocks of the season
Darko Milicic was great defensively for Minnesota. And yes, typing that sentence and every Darko-related sentence I’ll end up typing this season hurts more than anything. But it’s clear: Milicic has evolved into one of the better frontcourt defenders in the league.
He blocked seven shots against the Pistons, and don’t get me wrong, that’s impressive. But he should also send a big thank you card to Greg Monroe and Stuckey for gift-wrapping at least four for him, plays where he didn’t really have to do anything but hold his ground and put his arm up.
Folks, there’s a good chance that Darko Milicic is going to lead the NBA in blocked shots this season. We all better start getting used to it as soon as possible. Possibly do like T-Mac and have a few glasses of moscato.
But at least we can take solace in the fact that he’s still horrible offensively. His turn-around right-handed hook attempt after a slow spin move from about 9 feet out that missed the basket by about three feet would have been the lamest shot of the season of JaVale McGee weren’t taking the “insanely idiotic shot” department to whole new levels.
Greg Monroe gets a start
The good news from the game? Pistons fans got an extended look at Monroe as a starter against a pretty good frontcourt, and he more than held his own.
His offense wasn’t that good. He’s had his well-documented problems with getting his shot blocked, and Milicic ate a few of his attempts alive. But he’s been a good rebounder all season for Detroit in his limited minutes, and that played out tonight. He finished with 15 rebounds, and eight of those were at the offensive end. His work on the offensive glass helped keep the game closer than it rightfully should’ve been, considering Minnesota shot 52 percent and Detroit shot only 39 percent for the game.
The bad news?
Monroe’s start didn’t come because John Kuester finally came to his senses and started him for Maxiell. It came because Kuester decided he needed to save Ben Wallace for tomorrow, since the Pistons have a back-to-back.
Unless Wallace is secretly injured, and that doesn’t appear to be the case since Wallace dressed for the game and was reportedly available for “emergency” duty, this makes zero sense.
Wallace played 28 minutes in Houston Tuesday, 24 in New Orleans Wednesday and the team had an off-day Thursday. Wallace is roundly praised for the shape he’s in. He’s arguably a better conditioned athlete than anyone on the team, regardless of age. He hasn’t been injured this year. He has played over 30 minutes in a game only twice this year.
The Pistons do have another game tomorrow, but after that, they play just twice in the next five days. This isn’t exactly a brutal point in the schedule and Wallace hasn’t been wearing down noticeably. Wallace not playing in this game may not have changed the outcome, but even 10 or 15 minutes with Wallace on the court could’ve at least kept the game competitive longer.