The Pistons found a few new toys tonight, and boy, it was a lot of fun watching Detroit learn how to play with them – even if the results weren’t always perfect.
The Pistons found intensity. I saw probably more Pistons dive for loose balls in their 112-109 overtime victory over the 76ers than I had the rest of the season. The Pistons took this game personally, and it showed. But they took it a little too far when Ben Wallace got hit with a late technical foul in regulation.
The Pistons found unselfishness. Everyone moved the ball, especially Tracy McGrady (seven assists) and Ben Wallace (five assists). But the Pistons were a little too unselfish, passing up good shots and frequently getting more difficult looks or turnovers instead.
The two young players carried the Pistons into overtime and gave Detroit a huge advantage early in the extra period.
Kudos to Pistons assistant coach Darrell Walker, who amended John Kuester’s play diagramming in the huddle before Detroit’s final play of regulation. I didn’t catch exactly what Walker said, but he wanted to change the role of “AD.” Kuester agreed, and wisely so. Daye’s 3-pointer with three seconds left to tie the game was a highlight of the season.
Then, Daye opened overtime with another 3-pointer and scored the game’s next points on a dunk (that clearly came from Monroe, who wasn’t credited with an assist). Add Monroe making three free throws after working inside, and the Daye-Monroe combo led Detroit’s 8-0 run to start overtime.
The Pistons went to those two a little too much after that. Monroe missed a free throw and each missed a shot before Rodney Stuckey made five free throws to seal the game.
But I didn’t care Daye and Monroe weren’t perfect. I didn’t care the Pistons passed too much. I didn’t care Wallace picked up a technical. Those were the side effects. The main results were too enjoyable.
If the Pistons play this hard and move the ball this well every night – and I certainly don’t expect that to happen – they’ll make the playoffs.
And if Monroe and Daye keep playing this well, they’ll be key pieces for the Pistons going forward in this rebuilding process.
Unlike his first career double-double against the Lakers on Tuesday, Monroe made a mark on this game. Many of his career-best 16 points came at crucial moments and with more diverse offensive moves than he had previously showed. Many of his 13 rebounds came in traffic. And his three steals came with solid defense, not needless risk taking.
Daye (15 points, six rebounds and three assists) continues to prove he’s a unique player in many ways. How many players can match his combination of shooting, passing, rebound positioning and consistency in boxing out? He must become a better defender, on and off the ball, to play enough to establish his primary skills. But those primary skills are a pretty special combination.
I can’t tell if I’m more excited about this game because of the tenacity the Pistons displayed in the moment or the encouraging signs Monroe and Daye showed for the future. Like the Pistons, I can’t entirely decide between the present and future – so I’ll stick with what I know:
Tayshaun Prince powers inside
Tayshaun Prince did a tremendous job working his way inside offensively all night. Combined with his penchant for selectively choosing his spots, it’s no wonder Prince scored 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Prince’s average shot came 10.4 feet from the basket. If you remove his lone 3-point attempt (a make), that number drops to 9.4 feet.
His ability to find quality shots is even more impressive considering Andres Nocioni, a pretty good defender, guarded him most of the game.
Add eight rebounds and pretty solid defense, including two blocks and a steal, Prince had an excellent night.
Rodney Stuckey starts again
NBA players rarely smile on the court. For one, half of them have nothing to smile about. The other half of them try to hide their grins because they want everyone to believe they play well so often, it’s old hat.
But when Rodney Stuckey made a long 3-pointer on the second possession of his first start since the Pistons lost to the Bobcats on Dec. 27, he allowed one the largest smiles I’ve season during a game to come across his face.
After so much chatter about Tracy McGrady playing better than him, Stuckey had to feel good about getting his job back. Stuckey’s 20-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, two-steal, two-turnover effort won’t ease all doubts, and it shouldn’t, especially considering the unlikelihood of Stuckey making 3-of-4 3-pointers. But it at least slows the flow of support from him to McGrady.
Stuckey played strong on-ball defense, including forcing a Jrue Holiday miss during a one-on-one fastbreak. Stuckey’s defense comes and goes, but he locked down against the 76ers.
His hustle also led to what I thought was a nice moment. Late in the fourth quarter, Stuckey dove for a loose ball and passed ahead to Daye, who charged. John Kuester, who publically feuded with Stuckey earlier in the season, came on to court to help up the point guard.
The Pistons’ top two shooting guards, Ben Gordon and Richard Hamilton, combined to score 15 points (4-of-17 shooting) with three rebounds and two assists. Both posted negative plus-minuses (Gordon at –5 and Hamilton at –1). That hasn’t happened in a win all season, and I don’t expect it to happen again. In fact, they’d both posted positive plus-minuses in six of the 10 Pistons wins where they both played.
So how did the Pistons get by tonight? Rodney Stuckey and Tracy McGrady shared the backcourt for the game’s final nine minutes, and those two played off each other better than either Gordon or Hamilton did with one of the point guards.
John Kuester deserves credit for not sticking with the Pistons’ highest-paid player or their third-highest player at shooting guard when it clearly wasn’t working.
Pistons’ length helps
Joe Dumars devotion to acquiring long players who can play multiple positions helped the Pistons on the 76ers final full possession of regulation. Philadelphia ran a pick-and-roll, but when Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince switched, they easily defended it. Many teams don’t have the versatility to switch in those circumstances, but Daye and Prince provided it here.
Elton Brand still had time to score as the shot clock wound down after the Pistons stifled the pick-and-roll, but the Pistons made Philadelphia earn that basket.
After the aforementioned Elton Brand basket, Charlie Villanueva missed a 3-pointer, and Austin Daye intentionally fouled Lou Williams. Luckily for the Pistons, Williams – an 81-percent free-throw shooter – missed both his free-throw attempts. That set up Daye’s game-tying 3-pointer.
Late in overtime, Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey each split a pair of free throws, and Tayshaun Prince missed a pair. Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks each made 3-pointers in that time frame, making the Pistons sweat a little.
Another subpar free-throw shooting night for the Pistons – 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) – didn’t cost them the game, but it’s still disturbing. Thankfully, the 76ers – 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) – came close enough to sinking to Detroit’s level.
Evan Tuner coming around?
Maybe it was just because he was playing the Pistons, or maybe he’s getting the hang of the NBA, but Evan Turner played a fine game. He had 19 points (7-of-11 shooting), five rebounds and five assists and played solid defense.
Before the draft, I thought Turner would become an excellent player, so I’m happy to see him play well just to prove myself right.
But I’m also happy Turner didn’t bring me near tears.
The Pistons have played nine games on at least two days rest. Including this one, four have gone to overtime.
Detroit is 5-4 on at least two days rest and 3-1 when those games go to overtime.
If the NBA ever decided to hold play-in games between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds to determine who made the playoffs, I suspect it would look something this.
Night in and night out, neither of these teams appears particularly mentally tough. But they both acted that way tonight – I suspect because each thought they were better than the other team.
It’s OK to lose to the NBA’s top teams. But to lose to Philadelphia (or Detroit)? Not having that.
That type of thinking isn’t productive long term, but it made for an entertaining game tonight.