In hard-fought loss to Hawks, Pistons get it all – individual progress & lottery odds

Lawrence Frank risked bodily harm to stop the Hawks tonight. Josh Smith made a 3-pointer to punctuate a 12-2 run to start overtime, and while celebrating, he nearly ran over Frank, who had come onto the court to call timeout.

While Frank had seen enough, I couldn’t get enough.

From this Pistons team, I will take 48 minutes of effort anytime I can get it. After a few years of dogging it too often, it’s a welcome sight. So what if the Pistons fell apart in overtime during a 107-101 loss to Atlanta? That’s Frank’s problem and not one I share.

This was the Pistons’ most satisfying two-game stretch of the season, even more so than back-to-back wins over the Pacers and Magic during New Year’s weekend. Not only did the Pistons play better tonight and against the Heat on Wednesday than they did in the victories, their two losses will improve their lottery odds.

And really, that’s still so, so important. For everything that went right tonight for the Pistons – Greg Monroe’s offense, Brandon Knight’s penetration – something went wrong – Monroe’s defense after he shoots, Knight’s finishing.

The Pistons are a work in progress – a big step from getting worked every night – but they need help. Some will come internally, as efforts like this will accelerate the growth of players already on the roster, and some will come from their lottery pick. Tonight, the Pistons helped themselves on both fronts.

Eventually, the Pistons must prove capable of competing for 53 minutes when necessary. But this year, 48 will play just fine.

Greg Monroe turns tables on Josh Smith

Greg Monroe missed his first six shots, but in the nine minutes he played before scoring his first point, he had four rebounds, an assist, a steal and charge drawn. That’s what makes him such a likable player. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he still players hard and tries to contribute in other ways.

At that point, it appeared Monroe would be limited mostly to those other contributions tonight. Monroe’s first six misses – and no free throw attempts early – were no coincidence. Josh Smith defended Monroe phenomenally, forcing Monroe out of his spots.

But like a veteran with a wealth of experience, Monroe sized up Smith, adjusted his moves ever so slightly and went to work. Monroe finished with 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting with 11 rebounds , four assists and two steals.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a joy watching Monroe play offense.

And Monroe’s defense has picked up since it bottomed out early in the season – with notable exception. After Monroe shot tonight, he was frequently slow to get back on defense and pick up his man, and that led to a few Atlanta baskets.

Brandon Knight dictates offense, despite struggles at rim

Brandon Knight had zero(!) turnovers tonight. None, zilch, nada.

Although Knight spent time at shooting guard next to each Rodney Stuckey and Walker Russell, his turnoverless performance tonight was more impressive than his no-turnover outing against the Bobcats for two reasons:

1. Knight played 42 minutes tonight compared to 35 minutes against Charlotte.

2. Knight attacked all night. He drove to the basket and set his teammates up with a career-high eight assists. Somewhat-risky drives and passes increase turnovers, but they also create better shots. To get those better shots and not turn the ball over, like Knight did, is aces.

Knight was particularly effective after grabbing his five defensive rebounds. They weren’t necessarily contested rebounds, but he immediately tried to create a fastbreak opportunity with some success.

Next, Knight needs to take better advantage of his ability penetrate. He made just 1-of-7 layups tonight. At least he took advantage of his outside shooting, including 4-for-8 on 3-pointers, to score 20 points.

Jason Maxiell hits high note

Jason Maxiell is playing himself out of the amnesty discussion.

It had been 66 games since Maxiell last scored 12 points in a game. Tonight, he scored 12 points in the second quarter alone, on 5-of-7 shooting. He finished with 19 points, matching the second-highest total of his career, and a season-best eight rebounds.

Although a lot of Maxiell’s game is based on brute force, he made mid-range jumpers and moved actively to create shots at the rim tonight. And yeah, his strength helped too, allowing him to convert two shots while being fouled.

With stellar play off the bench this season, Maxiell has turned himself into a useful role player. Some nights, like tonight, he scores. Some nights, he defends. Some nights, he rebounds. He doesn’t always put together all his skills in a single game, but as a $5 million expiring contract next season, he’ll value if he keeps playing like he has this year.

Austin Daye plays through slow start

Through three quarters, Austin Daye was 0-for-3 – a disappointing output following his breakout game against the Heat. Although I wish Daye had made more shots in his first 13 minutes and four seconds of playing time, his misses provided an opportunity to assess where his head is.

For the first time in a long time, Daye played within himself despite not making shots. He attempted a shot every four minutes and 21 seconds, which – ignoring the the games he played 31 seconds and 11 seconds – would have been his least-frequent shooting game since the season opener. Daye moved the ball well and rebounded and defended decently enough.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, Daye made 4-of-8 shots, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, for 12 points. He wasn’t nearly as impressive as Wednesday, but Daye didn’t let his early misses take him out of the game.

Daye earned a rotation spot against the Heat, and he probably didn’t prove tonight that he deserves minutes all season, but he certainly did enough to warrant continued playing time in the near future.

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Tags: Austin Daye Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Jason Maxiell Lawrence Frank

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