Detroit Pistons play smart, hustle, battle (and lose) against Miami Heat

The Pistons opened the game with a decided matchup advantage, which is rare enough.

And they displayed tremendous early energy, which might be even rarer.

And they kept up that energy well into the second half, which by definition, is even rarer than that.

And they were playing the Miami Heat, which might convince you I’m lying.

But all that happened. Oh, and the Pistons lost, 100-94. You didn’t ever expected them to win this game, did you?

The Heat are 49-22 for a reason – actually, several reasons, and one of the biggest is they beat up on weak teams. The Pistons, if you haven’t been paying attention, are a weak team. But, unlike many other nights, that didn’t stop them from making a positive impression.

To open the game, the Pistons played smart. Detroit built an eight-point lead midway through the first quarter by feeding whoever Mike Bibby guarded – Richard Hamilton, Tracy McGrady and even Chris Wilcox after a switch.

When the Heat pulled Bibby, the Pistons hustled. Jason Maxiell scrambled all over the court setting screens, and he scored inside a bit, too. Hamilton (27 points and four assists) moved well without the ball. And with all that pressure on the Heat’s defense, passing lanes opened. Detroit capitalized with 28 assists for the game, a majority of them coming in the first half.

When the Heat slowed the game by making shots – opening the fourth quarter on a 15-0 run – which allowed them to tighten their defense on Detroit, the Pistons battled. Thanks in large part to Rodney Stuckey’s aggressiveness, the Heat didn’t pull away until the final 10 seconds.

I don’t know how a Pistons fan could come away unhappy with the team’s performance tonight. For those who want to see Detroit play well, they got that. For those who want better lottery odds, they got that, too.

Why Chris Wilcox didn’t play more

Although his defense on Chris Bosh didn’t exactly impress, Chris Wilcox had a pretty fine game. In 18 minutes, he scored 10 points (5-of-6 shooting), grabbed four rebounds and made two assists, including a backward, no-look scoop to Greg Monroe for a layup after digging up a loose ball.

Most nights when Wilcox performs that well, he’d play more, but other factors kept him on the bench.

His second foul in the first quarter earned him a slightly quicker-than-usual hook, and he didn’t return in the first half. He played the first 9:30 of the second half, a fairly typical stint, but he never returned in the fourth quarter.

His night ended in the third quarter, because the Pistons’ needed an element late in the game he couldn’t provide.

Nine of the Pistons’ final 11 points came from a wing-type player driving to the basket, either via field goal or free throw.

Had Wilcox re-entered, he probably would have done so at the 6:43 mark, when Monroe and Richard Hamilton replaced Jason Maxiell and Ben Gordon. They joined Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince and Greg Monroe on the court.

In that final stretch, the Pistons scored 13 points. Not setting the world on fire, but it certainly beats the zero points Detroit had previously scored in the fourth quarter. Detroit’s offense began clicking, because its four wing-type players spread the floor and created driving lanes for each other. The plan really worked because the Heat (with Mike Bibby and James Jones) didn’t have enough players capable of both defending and helping on drives on the floor to match up with four potential drivers.

Of course, Pistons risked their rebounding and interior defense with this strategy. But during that final stretch, they outrebounded Miami, and Bosh scored just two points.

The Pistons didn’t really miss Wilcox, and they benefited from playing four wing-types.

Detroit lost because the Heat are a better team, not because John Kuester mismanaged his rotation. Quite the contrary, Kuester deserves credit for giving the Pistons a chance down the stretch with an unorthodox lineup.

Charlie Villanueva’s Pistons career might be entering the home stretch

In the first 2:38 of the fourth quarter, Charlie Villanueva committed an illegal-defense violation,* missed a shot and did nothing defensively to slow the Heat’s 11-0 run. So, John Kuester logically pulled the power forward in favor of someone who can make a positive impact on the game.

*At least one, for sure. The Pistons actually committed two in that short span, but the other was credited to Jason Maxiell. Keith Langlois thought Villanueva caused it. I don’t recall.

Villanueva wasn’t pleased. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

CV31 pointing at Q as he was yanked from the game.

I asked Ellis to clarify, and he graciously did:

He didn’t look happy.

To clarify further: CV31 was saying something while pointing. Q was just looking at him.

Just a gut feeling, but I don’t expect Villanueva back with the Pistons next year. By all accounts he’s a good guy and active in the community, but his sense of entitlement must be wearing thin.

Rodney Stuckey dunks harder than I’ve ever seen him dunk before

Rodney Stuckey usually takes the ball hard to the rim, but he doesn’t always (or often) finish hard once he gets there. Not the case tonight. Video via The Hoop Scene:

Another double-double for Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe had 14 points and 12 rebounds. More importantly, he continues to expand his game. Monroe held the ball longer tonight than he typically does, patiently looking for his shot or a pass (he made two assists). He also looked more confident with his spin move in the post, which he’s flashed on occasion in the past.

Tags: Charlie Villanueva Chris Wilcox Greg Monroe Jason Maxiell John Kuester Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Tracy McGrady