Making his way to the court before the game, Rodney Stuckey high-fived Jonas Jerebko, hugged Charlie Villanueva, hugged Austin Daye, tucked in his jersey and then did something few Pistons have done lately.
This was no forced smirk, but a wide grin. Speculating, I’d say he was excited to play the Portland Trail Blazers – the Seattle native’s de facto hometown team – and put on a show for his friends and family watching on television in the Pacific Northwest. Remember, Stuckey (or someone using his account) tweeted he “would go ASAP” to Portland during his contract negotiations with the Pistons.
Whatever his motivation tonight, mission accomplished.
Stuckey scored a season-high 28 points, matched a career-high four 3-pointers, dished five assists, grabbed four rebounds, had just one ball stolen in 38 minutes, took a charge and and even dunked(!) in the Pistons’ 94-91 win. This was a complete performance, and it came in a game it appeared meant a little extra to him.
For the rest of the Pistons, tonight was set to be just another game. It was the second game of a back-to-back and came on the heels of a four-game losing streak – each loss coming by at least eight points. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the Pistons’ season, and it’s clear they’re a bad team.
The Pistons were +11 in the 10:43 those two played together, including a second-quarter run that gave Detroit the lead for good. Russell and Wilkins moved the ball, defended with energy and inspired their teammates to do the same. It’s fitting the game ended with Jason Maxiell diving on a loose ball at midcourt – and a win.
Leaving the arena after every game with a loss becomes demoralizing. These are human beings, not robots. As much as it’s ideal for this team to keep losing and keep improving, it’s not that easy.
If they keep losing, remaining focused on improvement becomes a bigger challenge. If they win more, they forsake precious lottery combinations.
Players like Wilkins and Russell allow them to walk a middle ground.
Russell spent the last few years as a D-League guard and Wilkins has an unguaranteed minimum contract for a reason. They’re not good enough to lift the Pistons out of the lottery, but they’re good enough for wins like this one every once in a while.
I don’t know whether Stuckey will play with the same drive in Detroit’s next game, but I’m quite confident Wilkins and Russell will.
That’s why they’re here.
Jonas Jerebko (11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes) and Jason Maxiell (seven points, seven rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes) definitely benefited from the style Walker Russell and Damien Wilkins dictated tonight.
Jerebko is an excellent ball-handler and passer – for someone who shouldn’t be relied upon to do either often. His strong off-ball cuts set him up to receive passes when the ball is moving well, and he’s capable of making an extra pass or dribbling to force a scrambling defense to collapse, but the Pistons shouldn’t consistently rely on him to create for his teammates. Tonight, they didn’t.
Defensively, both players are best with other good defenders, and the Pistons played strong team defense tonight. Maxiell likes to be physical, but sometimes that takes him out of the play to rebound or help, so his teammates must compensate. Jerebko has the nimble feet to scramble and help and trap, but that’s only effective when his teammates are playing at least decent man-to-man defense. Tonight, they were.
I loved the way both played until Jerebko’s night ended prematurely when his mouth fouled Craig Smith’s elbow, resulting in this:
Brandon Knight scores tonight, but tomorrow?
Brandon Knight scored 14 points, and following 22 points against the Grizzlies yesterday, this is the highest-scoring two-game stretch of his young career. He often took advantage of Portland defensive lapses to get inside for either layups or free throws, which was helpful tonight.
But I’m not sure how much it means going forward. As Knight proves he’s capable of attacking and finishing, defense will gameplan for him and take away the wide driving lanes he saw tonight.
Don’t get me wrong, Knight’s scoring was in no way a negative. I’m just not convinced it’s a big positive. I was much more impressed with his three assists and only one turnover – even if both those numbers are deflated by Knight looking more for his own shot tonight.
Greg Monroe does more than score
The Pistons were guard-dominated and didn’t go to Greg Monroe often tonight, but he was still involved, including a big tip shot late in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
He has scored below his season average in each of his last four games, and I hope that trend will stop. But as long as he’s not the focal point of the offense, it’s nice to see him still work hard on the glass and defensively.
Austin Daye receives DNP-CD
Austin Daye had his good and bad moments against the Grizzlies, but Lawrence Frank held him out tonight. For someone lacking confidence, Daye will probably suffer in the short term. Hopefully, in the long term, this process will make him mentally tougher.