Josh Smith hitting higher gear as Pistons compete with NBA elite, beating Pacers after overtime loss to Portland

Detroit Pistons 101 Final
Recap | Box Score
96 Indiana Pacers
Greg Monroe, PF Shot Chart 39 MIN | 5-9 FG | 3-5 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +8

Monroe was huge on the glass for the Pistons, who outrebounded Indiana, 55-40. And his post game was solid. But Monroe got frustrated in the fourth quarter, not getting a foul call when his shot was blocked then committing an offensive foul on the next possession. I don’t know whether Monroe let that linger, but Luis Scola was abusing him around that time. Maybe it was just Monroe’s typical lackluster defense. The nadir was Monroe letting Scola easily offensively rebound a free throw and get a putback.

Josh Smith, SF Shot Chart 37 MIN | 13-29 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 30 PTS | -2

Picking up where he left off against the Trail Blazers last night, Smith really looked for his own shot. His 29 attempts were the most by a Piston since Richard Hamilton in 2009. Unfortunately, as tonight’s game progressed, the quality of Smith’s attempts dropped considerably from Sunday against the Trail Blazers. Though early third quarter, Smith was 11-of-19, including 5-of-7 within eight feet. After that, he shot 2-for-10 overall. At least Smith took a lot more good shot inside, by volume, than usual. Inside shots from Smith are preferable to most other attempts Detroit generates in its halfcourt offense. So, comparing Smith’s good shots to his bad shot is meaningful, but so is comparing Smith’s good shots to all the Pistons’ shots. And it wasn’t always easy for Smith to get looks near the basket. When guarding Smith outside the paint, Indiana’s power forwards backed off. Early, Smith didn’t accommodate with a lot of jumpers in those situations, but the strategy made it harder for him to drive to the rim. Still, Smith had at least some success penetrating anyway. That speaks to his skill scoring nearing the basket. Smith did a good job on Paul George (4-for-14), but the Pistons’ team defense was the biggest key to slowing the Pacers star. At one point, it appeared Smith would contribute more. He was into this game – getting inside, picking up a technical foul, talking to fans. The way he finished was certainly underwhelming given the expectations he set, but overall, Smith was very good.

Andre Drummond, C Shot Chart 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 1-6 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | 0

Drummond was a monster on the offensive glass, getting a few putbacks that only he could make look easy. He mostly played well defensively, but he got lost a couple times. Due to foul trouble, Drummond just didn’t play much tonight, but he still found time to confirm his status as a dreadful free-throw shooter.

Brandon Jennings, PG Shot Chart 37 MIN | 4-13 FG | 8-9 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +2

With fewer than four minutes remaining, Jennings dribbled down the shot clock while then made a pull-up 3-pointer. It was a dumb play, but it worked. The rest of Jennings’ late play was equally dumb, but it didn’t work. Unlike many fans, I don’t see a need to replace him with Chauncey Billups in the fourth quarter. When both are just playing their games, Jennings is much better than Billups now. But if Jennings remains intent on breaking his typical habits to play hero ball, he’s going to make what should be a useless plan necessary. At least he made his free throws down the stretch to preserve the win. Earlier in the game, Jennings gave a quality performance, setting up his teammates while protecting the ball, though seems to get impatient when the offense goes away from him for too long.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG Shot Chart 36 MIN | 3-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +6

Whether it was covering Lance Stephenson or fighting through the screens of Indiana’s bigs, tonight showed why Caldwell-Pope must become stronger. That shouldn’t be a big surprise for the rookie, who probably just needs time to fill out. Still, Caldwell-Pope used his energy to defend well, anyway. In particular, drifting off his man who had the ball to steal a pass stood out as a positive play. Caldwell-Pope continues to try, and struggle with, his mid-range game.

Josh Harrellson, PF Shot Chart 16 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +4

Due to foul trouble, Harrellson was pressed into season-high playing time, and he rose to the occasion. At times, Harrellson can disappear offensively, but he shot with confidence tonight, including making 1-of-2 3-pointers. He also attacked the glass on both ends. Defensively, Harrellson’s success depended on the matchup. David West isolated Harrellson inside and scored a high percentage on him, and Luis Scola found success by pulling Harrellson outside. Harrellson was more effective against the more-powerful, but less-crafty, Roy Hibbert, and Harrellson blocked Hibbert as a help defender. An ability to handle only certain matchups is probably what limits Harrellson’s minutes, but he’d be capable of playing a few more most nights.

Jonas Jerebko, PF Shot Chart 1 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +7

Jerebko knocked down a wide open corner 3-pointer at first-half buzzer, and to do so, he did something he sometimes struggles with: Making sure his feet are behind the arc. Jennings drove in the final seconds of the second quarter and missed. Under most circumstances, Jerebko should either crash for the offensive rebound or rotate to the center of the court to prevent an Indiana fastbreak. But with mere seconds remaining, he didn’t have time to accomplish either of those. So, he wisely stayed home, and Jennings rebounded his own miss then rewarded Jerebko with a kick-out pass.

Kyle Singler, SF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +3

Singler is proving surprising adept as an interior defender, whether he’s camped out in the paint to defend the rim or coming down from the perimeter to help on a post player. Singler was active on the glass, which isn’t exactly his game and partially explained his foul rate, but he was key in the Pistons winning the rebound battle so convincingly.

Will Bynum, PG Shot Chart 11 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +3

Bynum, playing for the first time since Nov. 27 and just third time since Nov. 15, showed his rust but looked healthy. He got to the rim with relative ease, but was a little sloppy once he penetrated.

Rodney Stuckey, SG Shot Chart 16 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -6

Stuckey made a wide-open short jumper but missed everything else. He made a couple lazy passes, and aside from minimally helping on George, Stuckey didn’t do much else.

Maurice Cheeks

Cheeks had a successful plan for neutralizing Paul George, throwing a number of defenders at him and switching on many screens. Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Singler and Stuckey all had turns on George as the Pistons have a bevy of long players capable of covering George. Cheeks has expressed his preference for teaching between games rather than during games, and I think there’s merit to that. But Jennings clearly didn’t learn anything about not playing hero ball after Sunday’s loss to Portland. Within this game, Cheeks erred in his handling of Drummond. Drummond played just 3:43 in the first half while picking up three fouls. He finished with four fouls. Though the Pistons played well in the first half without Drummond, it seems likely they would have played even better with him. The NBA’s foul limit does enough to punish the Pistons if Drummond fouls out. There’s no need for Cheeks to preemptively punish the team. Also, the Pistons still seemed confused defensively, especially before they set. Teams attack defenses before they set for a reason, but Detroit seems particularly scrambled when identifying whom to guard.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings David West George Hill Greg Monroe Indiana Pacers Jonas Jerebko Josh Harrellson Josh Smith Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Kyle Singler Lance Stephenson Rodney Stuckey THN-IND Will Bynum

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