A basket by Greg Monroe tied the Pistons and Denver at 72 with just under seven minutes to go in the third quarter Saturday.
Then the Nuggets out-scored Detroit 59-29 over the next 19 minutes and broke open a game that really didn’t seem all that close in the first place. Through two and a half quarters, neither team defended particularly well and both teams shot the ball pretty well. The difference is Denver is built to play like that and Detroit isn’t.
Denver only needed a few stops in a row to get that knockout run started, and although the team gives up a lot of points, active big men like Chris Anderson, Nene and Kenyon Martin provided the hustle plays and started getting to all of the loose balls, it seemed, talented point guards Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton ran the ball up and down the court all night and when J.R. Smith, who scored 31 points in 29 minutes, including 9-for-15 3-point shooting, caught fire in the third and fourth, Denver was easily able to distance itself from the Pistons.
To say the Pistons’ issues were at the defensive end is no understatement. Charlie Villanueva and Chris Wilcox, who were on the court together a lot, had some of the worst defensive breakdowns a frontcourt can have. Denver’s bigs easily beat both down the floor. Nene and Anderson, in particular, seemed to be invisible, slipping in behind Wilcox and Villanueva any time a Denver guard penetrated just a bit, leading to an array of backdoor cuts and layups, which were compounded by the fact that the Pistons strategy to defend against layups seemed to be pushing the player in the chest just as he was making the shot.
There aren’t words to properly describe how flat the Pistons looked at different points of the game. On an and-one free throw attempt by Nene in the first half, Nene missed the shot and not a single Piston moved to get the rebound. The ball bounced right back to Nene, who immediately went right to the basket and drew another foul. It was one of the weirdest plays I’ve seen this season. It really looked like the Pistons thought another free throw was coming.
This was one of Villanueva’s worst games as a Piston. Wilcox was a wreck on defense too, but he at least had the saving grace of having a solid offensive night, scoring 21 points. Villanueva, on the other hand, was slow to react all night on defense and shot poorly, going just 3-for-9.
It was a complete contrast in styles offensively between the two teams. The Pistons shot 50 percent, but rarely worked the ball around for good shots. Will Bynum picked up 10 assists in the game, several of them in garbage time on Wilcox dump-offs after Bynum penetrated. Minus those, the other Pistons players only had 14 assists. Denver, on the other hand, constantly rotated the ball, constantly looked for cutters, found the right man on virtually every possession and assisted on 33 of their 46 field goals.
The season is mercifully coming to an end soon, and the Pistons played on Saturday like they’re counting down the days to the end as much as fans are.