Coming up with a good defensive effort against the Bulls when Derrick Rose is out of the lineup is certainly a less daunting task than when they are at full strength, but the Pistons still produced one of their better defensive efforts of the season in tonight’s 83-71 loss to still pretty good Chicago team.
The Pistons lost because they couldn’t contend with Chicago’s strength — Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer were monsters on the offensive glass, combining to grab 17. Nine of those 17 came in the fourth quarter, producing 10 second chance points in the quarter and helping push the Bulls’ four-point lead into double digits.
The game, unlike some recent matchups in Detroit’s 14 straight losses to Chicago, stayed competitive most of the way because the Pistons used their length and speed to counter Chicago’s strength advantage. Detroit forced Chicago into 19 turnovers by constantly getting their hands in passing lanes. Now, they were partially helped by the sloppy ball-handling of Chicago’s guards, but Brandon Knight had one of his most active defensive games, a positive sign from a player who is quick and long-armed enough to eventually become a really good defensive point guard. Knight had a steal and two blocked shots and helped hold Chicago point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas to 4-for-18 shooting.
The team’s other starting guard, Austin Daye, also had two blocked shots and had three steals. In fact, Knight and Daye were the only two Pistons to block a shot in the game. Daye had his second straight positive defensive performance. He struggled shooting the ball (5-for-14), but I’m not convinced it was his poor shooting that was keeping him out of the lineup anyway. Lawrence Frank has shown a willingness to roll with players who are struggling offensively as long as the defensive effort is there, and defense has always been the lacking or even non-existent part of Daye’s game. He faced tough defenders tonight in Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng, so I’m not too worried about the poor shooting. In fact, I’m encouraged that the poor shooting didn’t torpedo his confidence at the other end of the court as it often does. He remained competitive and energetic even when his shot wasn’t falling. That’s a huge mental hurdle he has yet to overcome as a NBA player and tonight was a positive sign that he has the ability to contribute more than just occasional spot-up shooting.
The defensive performance was far from flawless — Jason Maxiell gave up some way too easy baskets to Carlos Boozer early and, although they played hard on defense, Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko were just out-muscled on the boards all night. Still, there was much more positive to take away from the defensive effort tonight than negative, and it has been a rarity to be able to write that this season.
Starting, not closing, quarters was a problem
Bad teams frequently do a poor job of closing out quarters strong, and the Pistons have been no exception this season. Tonight though, the Pistons were down eight with less than three minutes to go in the third and cut it to four by the end of the third.
Unfortunately, they didn’t carry that momentum into the fourth. Kyle Korver hit a three, then Taj Gibson hit a jumper and was fouled to push the lead to 10 in the opening minute of the fourth. That was a theme all game for the Pistons — they worked very hard to get the game close, then Chicago would answer with a series of easy baskets to push the lead back up.
Monroe’s tough 14 points
Greg Monroe has been passive over the last few games when it comes to establishing good position and creating the types of shots he was regularly getting earlier in the season. Tonight, he wasn’t getting great position and he was taking shots a bit out of his comfort zone, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Monroe fought for every inch he could get against Noah and Omer Asik. Usually though, they succeeded in making him catch it a little further from the basket than he wanted the ball. Unlike a previous meeting this season when Monroe successfully beat Noah off the dribble several times, Chicago was giving plenty of help, making it difficult for him to put it on the floor. Monroe scored 14 on 7-for-13 shooting, but none of those baskets came easily. Four of his points were a result of tip-ins where he absorbed a lot of contact and was sent crashing to the floor. Four more came on heavily contested jumpers.
Monroe was involved in the offense — he also had five assists — but more importantly, he had zero turnovers despite facing constant pressure from Chicago. He’s had more dominant performances this season, but I don’t think he’s performed better against a tough, physical defense that came after him than he did tonight.
About that bench …
Chicago’s defense was physical and intense. Other than Monroe, Maxiell and Ben Wallace (who only took four and two shots respectively), no one on the Pistons shot well. But the starters at least were competitive against the Chicago defense. The reserves? Not so much. Will Bynum, Damien Wilkins and Jonas Jerebko combined to go 2-for-19. Bynum, in particular, played really poorly (0-for-8 shooting, 0 assists, 0 steals and a turnover). Wilkins and Jerebko were at least able to make some hustle plays. Jerebko came up with five offensive rebounds and Wilkins had a nice, clean contest on a Watson breakaway layup, forcing a miss, in the fourth quarter, although Wilkins did pay the price by taking a hard elbow to the face. But with a depleted lineup, the Pistons desperately needed some scoring out of at least one of those guys (and Bynum should’ve been the most likely candidate). It just never materialized.
Couple of things about Knight’s stat line that his detractors will surely jump on: he only had one assist and he didn’t shoot well overall. I’m going to give him a pass on both counts.
First, they needed him to be aggressive as a scorer tonight with both Stuckey and Gordon out. On top of that, with Bynum struggling, Knight was their only player capable of consistently beating his man off the dribble and creating shots for himself or drawing the attention of the defense. He did those things pretty well most of the game. Until he forced three bad shots late in the game with the Pistons trying to get back in it, he was a respectable 7-for-15. As for his assists, he found open teammates several times for open jumpers, resulting in misses. Jerebko, Prince and Daye all missed wide open threes in the second half that should’ve been assists for Knight. Knight’s offense wasn’t terrible and his defense was pretty good. His effort was a big reason the game stayed as close as it did.
Despite getting medical clearance to play, Tom Thibodeau held Rip Hamilton out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. On Twitter as the game was about to start, I was reading tweets from Chicago fans who were worried that Hamilton might be rushing back from his latest injury simply to face his former team. He’s already done that once this season, and he re-aggravated his injury in that game.
Hamilton being stubborn/prideful even to the possible detriment of his own health? I’m shocked to hear such a thing. Never change, Rip.