The Playoff Myth Lives: Pistons gain ground on eighth place Pacers with 115-109 OT win Wednesday

In Monday’s loss to Atlanta, I mentioned in the recap that even though the Pistons had an early double-digit lead, it felt really flukey simply because Atlanta was shooting well over 60 percent while the Pistons were building that lead.

There were similar circumstances in the first half of Wednesday’s game against Atlanta: the Pistons led, at times, by double figures despite the fact that Indiana was shooting nearly 70 percent for a good portion of the half. There was one key difference, however, that made the offense seem more sustainable vs. Indiana than vs. Atlanta: the team wasn’t solely reliant on outside shooting.

Here’s what their shot chart looked like vs. Atlanta:

And here is the shot chart vs. Indiana:

Notice the difference in shots they attempted from beyond 18 feet vs. the Hawks? That’s why the Pistons’ hot shooting early vs. the Hawks was a mirage. It’s just much harder to sustain a hot shooting start when they are all from 18. Against the Pacers, the Pistons were working for better shots and they took advantage of the fact that the Pacers play absolutely no defense, bite hard on nearly every pump fake and don’t fight over screens.

Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince were the biggest beneficiaries of the porous Indiana defense. Gordon shot 8-for-14 off the bench, the most FG attempts he’s had in the last eight games. Most Gordon fans argue that he simply needs more shots to be effective. That’s only partially true. Gordon needs to make quicker decisions too. Against the Hawks, he often held the ball, which led to either forced shots that were contested or led to him passing up on shots that he can make. Against Indiana, coming off of screens, he didn’t hesitate and his shot looked as nice as it has all season.

Prince, meanwhile, scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, shooting 11-for-16 on the night. Prince has never seemed like a guy who is totally comfortable as the primary option on a team, although he’s certainly the Pistons best option on offense most nights this season because of his intelligence and ability to score by posting up or facing up, depending on his matchup. Against the Pacers, he looked like a player who loves nothing more than to take big shots and be the centerpiece of an offense. It was certainly a good performance by Prince (one that he should’ve had the chance to win in regulation, considering he was fouled about four different times on his final shot attempt), and it sets up an intriguing storyline heading into the second half of the season: if Joe Dumars is unable to trade Prince by the deadline, Prince will essentially be auditioning for one last big contract. Not that he’s having a passive season by any stretch, but it will be interesting to see if he becomes even more aggressive offensively to prove to potential suitors he’s not just a third or fourth option type of player on a good team.

Detroit, collectively, played extremely well offensively, and although the analysts on FSD kept stressing the need for Detroit to slow the pace in order to win, I just don’t understand that thinking. If anything, Detroit should be looking to take quick shots more often, push the ball up more often and keep defenses on their heels. We all know the team doesn’t have a legitimate point guard, they have a few guys who can do some things that point guards do on occasion. It just doesn’t make sense to rely on a halfcourt, slow-it-down system minus that steady playmaker.

Tracy McGrady has been serviceable as a facilitator in the halfcourt. Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey, though, are both clearly better when they are allowed to run the ball up and down the court and make quick reads. And as we saw tonight, that style benefits players like Chris Wilcox and Charlie Villanueva. Wilcox’s one attribute that gives him any redeeming quality as a NBA big is he’s really good at running the floor. So if you have Wilcox in the game and you’re running halfcourt sets, he’s pointless. As we saw tonight, if you pair him with guards who will run, he’s going to get you many easy baskets.

Villaneuva is better as a 3-point shooter when he’s shooting on the move. He loves to trail on breaks and pull up for that three. If you aren’t running very often, you don’t have that weapon.

And if they need to slow it down, they have personnel in McGrady and Prince who are good at slowing everyone down and working the shot clock down before getting a decent shot. Too often, the Pistons seem married to a style of play that doesn’t benefit their personnel. I love defense as much as anyone, but when you have a team full of guys who are no better than average defensively, and several are below average, it’s not very realistic that they’ll be good collectively on that end of the court.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel has had some success so far with his team because he basically let’s them run the ball up and take the first shot they find to their liking. Their roster has a lot of similarities to the Pistons. Point guard Darren Collison had nine assists against the Pistons, but he’s not a traditional pass-first point, as evidenced by the fact that he’s only averaging 5 assists per game and has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. They have wings in Mike Dunleavy, Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones who can have some success situationally, but none are guys who you can rely on to create their own shots. They have a young developing big man in Roy Hibbert who, like Greg Monroe, sometimes struggles defending opposing bigs. They have a power forward in Josh McRoberts who, like Villanueva, is more comfortable on the perimeter.

The Pacers strengths are their offense, speed and athleticism, and since Vogel has allowed them to play more freely, they’ve had more success.

The Pistons are capable of playing more up-tempo, they just have a staff in place who doesn’t want to. Hopefully watching the team out-play a very good offensive team in Indiana helps the coaching staff get a little more creative with their personnel in the second half.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Charlie Villanueva Chris Wilcox Greg Monroe John Kuester Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Tracy McGrady Will Bynum

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