Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace missing from Detroit Pistons' crunch time lineup in close loss to Utah Jazz

OK … so earlier today, I pointed out why I think it was unfair for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to complain about a lack of adjustments in games against Charlotte and Phoenix in which the players as a whole clearly played with very little effort.

But after Monday’s close loss at Utah when the Pistons played very hard and well against a good team? That’s on coaching and coaching alone (well, a slight assist to the officials as well, but more on that in a minute).

The crunch time lineup for the Pistons was simply baffling.

First, with the Pistons down three and only :50 seconds remaining, the team took and missed 3-pointers on two of their next three possessions. Not only was their best 3-point shooter, Gordon, not the one who took those shots, he was not even in the game.

Gordon on the bench in the fourth quarter is nothing new. And on some nights, it’s the right decision. Occasionally, Gordon shoots the ball really poorly or doesn’t have a rhythm. Sometimes, Rip Hamilton plays a lot better than Gordon. On Monday, both played decent. But when one happens to shoot the three much better than the other career-wise, that should be the deciding factor for who is on the court in situations when the team needs a three.

The Pistons might not have needed a three at all, however, if the team’s best defensive player had been on the court a few seconds earlier. With the game tied at 93 and less than 1:30 remaining, Deron Williams beat Tayshaun Prince off the dribble and got in the lane near the free throw line, where his intention was clearly to pull up for his patented floater. Greg Monroe switched on Williams, but instead of closing out, he backpedaled, giving Williams a wide open look at one of his favorite shots. I’m not saying Ben Wallace being in he game would’ve changed whether or not the shot went in. But I feel pretty confident that it would’ve at least been contested.

The Pistons certainly have an unbalanced roster, and that is not Kuester’s fault. But how he uses the players he has often makes no sense. Monroe was playing at crunch time despite having a quiet game. Wallace had a solid game with eight boards in 22 minutes and he was certainly a more passable defender against the burly Utah frontline than Monroe. Yet once again, Wallace was absent in the fourth.

Gordon on the bench in the fourth has been a familiar sight to Pistons fans his entire career in Detroit. I mean, Gordon certainly has flaws in his game that have been dissected on this site and elsewhere. But isn’t part of the reason you sign Gordon to let him play crunch time? The man once single-handedly beat the Celtics in a playoff game. LeBron James can’t even say that. Prior to coming to Detroit, Gordon was considered one of the best crunch-time players in the league. He’s starting now, which is fine I guess, but Kuester is still using him in the exact same way he’s always used him.

Against Utah, it’s not even like the Pistons were using a traditional lineup, so Kuester realistically could’ve played both Hamilton and Gordon at the same time if he didn’t want to risk upsetting Hamilton by benching him in the fourth. They had Prince and Austin Daye in the game at the forward spots. Prince was guarding the point guard on most possessions. No one else was really guarding anyone. Gordon easily could’ve slid in for Daye in the final minutes. It’s not like Daye had a remarkable game or anything to justify his crunch time spot — he shot 2-for-8.

There’s simply no legit explanation for the weird lineup — Tracy McGrady, Hamilton, Prince, Daye and Monroe — that played a lot down the stretch for the Pistons. That was not the best offensive or defensive lineup the Pistons could’ve put on the court. And they didn’t defend well vs. Utah anyway, so since the game is close, why not go for the offense?

In my earlier critique of the comments Villanueva and Gordon made about the lack of adjustments, I want to make it clear that they are not necessarily wrong. My main point is that it’s hard to take criticisms seriously from anyone on the team when the effort is questionable.

But decisions like playing the lineup Kuester decided to play late in a game the Pistons played well enough to win is all the evidence anyone needs to explain why the team seems to not always play with effort. Kuester’s decisions to play that lineup were not based on production, since more productive players in the game were on the bench. They were not about strategy, since better shooters or situational defenders were sitting on the bench. They were simply baffling decisions that caused the Pistons to be dramatically overmatched as the game came to a close.

Bell’s shot was a two

Raja Bell hit what was called a three with :30 seconds left to put Utah up three. Replays clearly showed it was a two — Bell’s foot was on the line. Officials chose not to review the play, and the Pistons went for a three on two of their next three possessions. It’s possible had that shot been called a two, the late-game strategy would’ve been different. Other factors contributed to the outcome, but that was a big missed call.

McGrady and Prince were fantastic

The stat lines speak for themselves. Prince continues to have a great rebound after a slow start to the season. He’s playing with pride and hopefully, for his sake and for Detroit’s future, he’s playing himself onto another team’s roster at the trade deadline. Early in the season, Prince was visibly unhappy and seemed like the Piston most likely to be the most vocally disruptive and unhappy player on the team. Instead, he’s turned his attitude around, he’s been largely positive in his comments to media and his on-court demeanor has improved drastically. He’s doing exactly what a good veteran player in a losing situation should — quietly, professionally playing well and consistently whether his teammates are following suit or not.

McGrady, meanwhile, has more than made his case that he should be the Pistons’ starting point guard for the foreseeable future. He’s the team’s best playmaker and he was just one rebound shy of a triple double against the Jazz. I found it interesting on the postgame show on Fox Sports Detroit that Mateen Cleaves, who is normally the opposite of critical, emphatically made the case that the Pistons are just much better with McGrady at the point guard spot. Now Cleaves didn’t say anything in particular about Rodney Stuckey, but he didn’t have to. The Pistons are unbalanced and could lose a lot of games this year regardless of who plays, but if the organization is as committed to winning now as has been maintained, then McGrady is simply the best player at that position on the roster.

Monroe gets a dunk

Monroe’s ability to finish, or lack thereof, has been a big topic of conversation this year. In traffic, he often looks hesitant and ends up putting up soft shots inside that are routinely blocked or miss their mark.

His only bucket against Utah came when he caught a pass in the lane and went up against two Utah defenders and finished with a dunk. I haven’t seen Monroe dunk much period this season, but I’m pretty sure that was his first dunk in traffic as a Piston. It even seemed to catch Greg Kelser and George Blaha off-guard. Hopefully it’s a sign Monroe is getting stronger around the basket.

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