The Pistons have played hard this season. They’re simply not good enough to be competitive with most average or better teams in the league. I understand all this and it has been clear from the moment the season started the team would struggle. What I’ve been waiting for is that struggle to breed some anger. Finally, in the third quarter of Friday’s lost to Memphis, they played a little mad.
For most of the game, physical Memphis guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen clutched, grabbed, bumped and used every tool at their disposal to rattle Piston guards Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon. For most of the game, Marc Gasol beat on Greg Monroe every time he touched the ball in the post and frequently, Rudy Gay or Allen would trap him hard. For a while, the Pistons stood around expecting calls. When those calls didn’t come, the Pistons finally played with some toughness.
Lawrence Frank got his first technical foul of the season early. When Monroe got doubled in the post and no teammates moved to the ball to help him, Monroe screamed at them. When the Grizzlies started taking even more wild gambles at steals in the third quarter, Knight finally started putting it on the floor and driving it right past them. Tayshaun Prince, who has been mostly content to shoot jumpers this season, set up shop around the basket, grabbing a season high three offensive rebounds before the third quarter had even ended. He also absorbed contact and got to the line some (and he deserved to get to the line a couple more times for hard hits he took that resulted in no-calls), a rarity for him this season. Monroe struggled with his shot early, but made up for it by being all over the defensive glass, collecting 13 rebounds. None of these things contributed to a winning effort, obviously, but it was nice to see just a bit of a pulse.
Memphis is a much better team and the Pistons had some major defensive breakdowns in the first half that they couldn’t recover from. But it has been common to watch the Pistons this season get hit with a flurry by a team like Memphis, which the Pistons generally meet by clamming up and shooting jumpers. In the second half, for a few minutes at least (remember, this is a season of straw clutching), the Pistons looked like the team Frank wants them to be. They contested shots, they weren’t afraid to attack the paint even though they were paying for it and, most importantly, they reacted to Memphis pushing them around by pushing back some for a change. Young players usually have a hard time matching the physicality of good, tough teams like Memphis, and the Pistons certainly couldn’t do it over the course of the entire game, but I’ll take a few minutes of it at this point.
The infusion of physicality was short-lived and far from enough to have a chance to win, but when the Pistons play with intensity and toughness they played with in the second half, they’re a far more entertaining bunch to watch.
Daye’s climb back
A mix of injuries and poor play cost Austin Daye his rotation spot this season. His confidence has been non-existent, but teammates and coaches have been trying to rebuild him. Against Memphis, he got his first chance at extended minutes in quite a while. Results were mixed.
When he first checked into the game in the first half, he blocked a shot on defense, then came down on offense, immediately recognized a mismatch with Conley guarding him, called for it in the post and hit a nice turnaround bank shot over Conley. He looked confident, he understood and took advantage of a mismatch and, most importantly for that confidence, he hit a shot.
Then, though, he was one of two players who had a chance to stop the ball with time running down in the first quarter. He didn’t and Rudy Gay hit a three at the buzzer. In the second quarter, he was late on a rotation and completely missed another one of defense, resulting in two Memphis layups. He also missed another open 3-pointer and blew a layup. But, to Frank’s credit, he called a timeout after a flurry of bad plays and didn’t yank Daye, as has been the pattern for most of Daye’s career. Daye got 11 minutes in the first half, including the chance to go back out and atone for some mistakes, and five more in the second half. He got his shot going late (finishing 4-for-7) and he was more competitive than he’s looked in a while, getting to a couple loose balls in the second half (although he badly overthrew an outlet pass after getting to one of them) and not hanging his head and doing that weird clap thing he’s known for when he did make bad plays. That’s not much to get excited about, but it has to be baby steps with Daye. The Pistons could use his shooting and he really needs to show everyone he’s not as bad as he’s played so far this season. He has more to build on from this performance than any other he’s had this season.
Walker Russell Jr. is a NBA point guard
I loved watching Walker Russell Jr. play tonight. It’s probably just because he’s new, a good story and breaks some of the monotony of watching the same familiar faces get shredded every night, but Russell really has a skillset that should give him a spot on someone’s bench as a backup point guard.
He’s energetic and quick, he handled the ball well against a tough pressure defense and he was a willing passer. He only finished with one assist, but when you consider Daye missed a wide open three that Russell set up for him, Daye missed a layup when Russell found him wide open and Jason Maxiell fumbled a great pass that should’ve set him up for a dunk, it was easy to see Russell has the skillset to create shots for others with his speed and vision.
The Pistons’ backcourt is probably too crowded for him to have a long-term spot with the team, but if he can continue to show some things over the next few games, he might earn himself a look elsewhere if nothing else.