Late in Saturday’s 100-83 loss to Memphis, I tweeted this:
Pistons shooting 38%, have more TOs than Memphis and aren’t defending Memphis bigs. No idea how they’re up in this game.
The Pistons were leading by two at the time, and they held a slim lead for a good portion of the game. Statistically, though, it didn’t make much sense. The Pistons shot the ball poorly — Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight were a combined 15-for-50 and the team shot just 37 percent for the game. Memphis, meanwhile, shot 49 percent for the game and spent much of the game well over that mark.
The Pistons turned the ball over 17 times to 14 by the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies had 19 assists while the Pistons had 15. This was the type of game Memphis should’ve pulled away in much earlier than they did — they finally decided to blow the Pistons out late. After a Stuckey jumper put the Pistons up 78-76 with about eight minutes to go in the fourth, Memphis turned it on and ended the game on a 24-5 run.
It was pretty simple why the game stayed close — the Grizzlies didn’t take advantage of Detroit’s softness inside. Marc Gasol scored 11 points in the first quarter on 5-for-6 shooting. He got position wherever he wanted. He only got seven shots over the final three quarters though. But Gasol is an All-Star, he’s supposed to be tough to handle. It wasn’t just him — Mareese Speights was active, scoring 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Even seldom used Hammed Haddadi met little resistance in his brief cameo. He easily backed his way inside, missed a short shot, grabbed the offensive rebound and went right back up with his shot.
The Grizzlies’ perimeter players played well, particularly late in the game, but they had a decided advantage inside that they inexplicably ignored for big portions of the game.
The Pistons kept it close because Tayshaun Prince played well. Sure, his shots were going in, but that’s not what I was impressed with. I was impressed that he didn’t shoot more. He took only 10 shots, fourth most on the team. Even though the team’s young players, Monroe, Knight and Stuckey, where having bad games, Prince still behaved like a fourth option. He kept the ball moving, he looked to set up others (he had four assists and would’ve had at least two more if not for misses of easy looks) and, even though a case could be made that he certainly could’ve taken a more integral role in the scoring with his shot falling and the others off, he didn’t.
This was the Prince that Dumars had to have envisioned when he re-signed him. The Pistons lost a game they led most of the way and their young players looked pretty bad. Those things aren’t great outcomes, but they’re also part of developing those players. Prince tonight wasn’t an impediment to that development. He wasn’t taking more shots than he should’ve and he wasn’t dominating the ball too much on offense. His game was understated — he’s certainly had a few games this season with better numbers — but this was the first time I’ve watched Prince this season where he actually looked like he could adjust and fit with the team’s young players. With his contract, trading him is no guarantee, so figuring out a way for him to be effective without hindering the opportunities of the other players is key. Tonight was the first glimmer of hope that Prince can be comfortable with a lesser role.
Knight gets a dunk
A knock on Knight, and perhaps a reason he slipped a bit in the draft after being projected to go as high as third overall, has been his athleticism. He’s fast with the ball, but he’s not the explosive athlete a few other recent John Calipari point guards are. Tonight though, Prince found Knight on a lob that he finished with a dunk. It wasn’t contested or in major traffic or anything, but Knight went up high and got it and that’s just not something we’ve seen a lot of from him this season. It was pretty surprising.
He’s never going to be the Rose/Westrbook type of guard who will go dunk over guys regularly, but it was nice to see that little flash of athleticism from him in an otherwise poor performance.
UPDATE: Thanks to Alex in the comments, here is video of Knight’s dunk:
Ben Gordon injured
Gordon only played 15 minutes and took one shot. He also left the game with an ankle injury, although he did return. In the third quarter, he came up limping after someone appeared to step on his ankle. Since he came back in, I assume it’s not serious, but ankle injuries have been an issue for Gordon pretty much since he arrived in Detroit and they’ve undoubtedly played a part in his up and down play (not blaming all of his poor play on injuries, but I’m sure it has had some impact, particularly his first season here).
I assume the Pistons are still evaluating whether or not to amnesty Gordon or Charlie Villanueva if they decide to use the provision in the offseason. Villanueva’s injury issues have already made him seem like the more logical choice, but if Gordon gets slowed down by injuries again this season, he’ll be right back in the race.
It has been no secret that Detroit’s bench has no offense and has been one of the worst reserve units in the league this season, but it was really on display tonight. Memphis played last night while Detroit hadn’t played since Wednesday, yet the Grizzlies looked like the fresher team late. The Pistons got 11 bench points (2 of which were on a garbage time bucket by Vernon Macklin). Memphis made runs in both halves to take the lead while Detroit had at least three bench players on the floor. Every Pistons starter except Jason Maxiell played more than 35 minutes.
Memphis, conversely, got 17 points from O.J. Mayo and 12 from Quincy Pondexter. Both guys played big roles in the late surge that broke the game open. The Pistons have just not had a single reserve player all season who has consistently brought positive contributions off the bench. It puts a huge burden on the starters.