With :45 seconds to go in a tie game, the Pistons forced a missed layup by Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. The 6-foot-6 Alonzo Gee snuck in and grabbed an offensive rebound.
With :25 seconds to go in a tie game, Gee missed a short jumper, grabbed the offensive rebound and dunked it to put Cleveland up two.
Of course, by that point in the game, Cleveland had all but assured they were going to win after erasing a 17-point Pistons second half lead, capping things with a 35-23 fourth quarter. The problems for the Pistons were simple ones. Their defense was at its best when Ben Wallace, Damien Wilkins and Jason Maxiell were on the floor. That group helped put the clamps on Cleveland in the second quarter, allowing the Pistons to take control. Unfortunately, that lineup couldn’t score. Their offense was at its best with Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe on the floor. Unfortunately, they weren’t stopping anyone, particularly Kyrie Irving (8-for-15, 25 points, 5 rebounds 8 assists, 2 steals) and Antawn Jamison (11-for-22, 32 points, 10 rebounds).
In hindsight, it was a mistake for Lawrence Frank to go back to that defensively active unit of Wallace, Wilkins, Maxiell, Will Bynum and Ben Gordon that helped spark the team a bit in the second. I understand why he did it — his main scoring threats in the starting lineup were horrid defensively and Tayshaun Prince was just plain horrid at everything he did. It was still a mistake though. Cleveland got hot and the Pistons didn’t have an offensive weapon to speak of in the game since Gordon was having an off night.
For three quarters, the Pistons continued to look like a hungry, improving young team that would be formidable soon. But much like their last loss to a bad team, the Washington Wizards, the Pistons built a lead only to watch the opposing team pretty easily pick apart their defense while their offense went cold. Oh, and did I mention how terrible Prince was? Because he was really really terrible and still kept shooting kind of a lot. The Pistons continue to play not terrible basketball, but this game was a perfect example of why that * ahem * playoff talk was premature. The Pistons weren’t as bad as they were early in the season and they’re not as good as they looked over the last 10 or so games. That all adds up to a team that is still bad. They’re improving, there has been none of the dissension that marred the last two seasons, the young guys are playing a lot and a couple of their pricey veterans — Maxiell and Gordon — have had good enough moments to show that they can still occasionally be competent rotation pieces. Everyone should be pretty satisfied with those results for now.
A tale of off-shooting nights
Three Pistons shot the ball pretty poorly: Gordon (although, in fairness, he did hit a couple of jumpers late helping keep the Pistons in it), Prince and Jonas Jerebko.
There was a big difference between what the three players contributed, though. Jerebko shot 4-for-12, but still made offensive contributions namely through is five offensive rebounds. He also had an assist and a steal and didn’t turn it over. In short, he found a way to make himself useful even though his shots weren’t going in.
Compare that with Prince and Gordon. Prince had four assists and, as always, took care of the ball. But he didn’t play particularly good defense — Prince couldn’t deal with Gee’s activity and, like the rest of the team, struggled the few times he was matched up with Jamison when the Pistons went small and Prince played some four late. Prince’s biggest issue was his over-involvement in the offense. Jerebko shot poorly, but wasn’t out there looking for his own shot. He missed a few from close range (including two that were blocked) and most of his misses were open looks that he should always take. Prince often looked for his own shot even on a night when it wasn’t falling, and making matters worse, the Pistons had three players on the court with him most of the time in Monroe, Knight and Stuckey who were shooting really well. I’ve harped on this all season, but here goes again: Prince was brought into to be a steadying, veteran influence on a young team. Fine, whatever, I’m OK with the concept even if they paid too much for that kind of luxury. But part of being a smart, steadying hand on a young team is understanding when you should defer. Prince is, at best, a third option on this team and, when the team plays its three guard lineup with Gordon, he really should be the fourth option. He’s still behaving as a one or two option, and that’s a problem.
As for Gordon, I don’t have a problem with him shooting, even when he struggles. He’s paid to score. The issue is simply that when he’s off, he does absolutely nothing else of value. No assists. No free throws. Sloppiness with the ball (including two turnovers). Stuckey’s play over the last couple weeks has certainly helped make the point moot, but Gordon is clearly entrenched as a reserve at this point. He came to the Pistons because he always wanted an opportunity to start. I think after two plus seasons, there is ample evidence proving he’s in the only role he’s suited for now.
Forgot about Greg?
With everyone’s hearts pitter-pattering over Stuckey’s resurgence over the last week has taken some of the focus off of the man who was basically the only positive on a game to game basis for a good chunk of the season. Monroe showed once again that he’s still the Pistons steadiest and best offensive player. He threatened a triple-double again — 19 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists — and once again was probably robbed by a few teammates who had a tough time knocking down open shots. The offense was at its best running through Monroe and although he was part of a frontcourt that was dismantled by Jamison, he came up with three steals, his highest output since Feb. 1.
The Pistons don’t have a point guard
After the Kings game Saturday, noted troll/screen name abuser robertbayer/Bob Bayer/Kagiso Edwards/at least one more different name that I’m forgetting tried to take me to task for not mentioning the role Stuckey playing shooting guard has had in his improvement.
I don’t mention it because it’s nonsense. Tonight’s game was a perfect example. Stuckey is not a full-time shooting guard because Knight is not anything resembling a point guard yet. Against the Cavs, Knight shot the ball really well, obviously hyped to play against his rival Kyrie Irving, which dates back to high school when Irving and Knight were the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the country respectively. But if you notice, Knight didn’t really do many point guard-like things. He had three assists and two turnovers, but the offense was initiated by Stuckey as much as it was Knight, and a lot of it was run through Monroe in the high post.
Stuckey obviously has more freedom under Frank to push the ball (Frank has called him a “one man fast break,” taking advantage of Stuckey’s speed in the open court, something two previous coaches have been hesitant/terrified to unleash). He’s obviously the team’s biggest guard, so matchup-wise, he’s often guarding the opposing shooting guard. But make no mistake, the Pistons aren’t running any kind of traditional offense that features one point guard. Point guard responsibilities are shared pretty equally between Stuckey, Knight, Monroe and Prince, all of whom have significant roles in running the offense.
As Knight develops more, that may change. But right now, it’s inaccurate to call Stuckey primarily a shooting guard.