Josh Smith beats Suns, loses to Suns, beats Suns

Phoenix Suns 108 Final
Recap | Box Score
110 Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe, PF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 6-14 FG | 8-11 FT | 12 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +12

Monroe was OK finishing near the basket, but he offset that with the foul calls he often doesn’t get. His pick-and-roll defense was poor, especially in the second half. The repeated miscommunications seem like a coaching issue, but Monroe didn’t execute, either.

Josh Smith, SF Shot Chart 38 MIN | 11-16 FG | 2-3 FT | 11 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | +10

With the game tied, 26 second remaining and the shot clock expiring, Smith made his only 3-point attempt of the night. Pistons win, right? Not yet. Then, he fouled Gerald Green on a 3-pointer, and Green made all three free throws? Pistons lose, right? Nope. They didn’t even make it to overtime. Smith drove for a layup, the type of aggressive play he said he regretted not making after settling for a badly air-balled jumper in a similar situation against the Knicks. Pistons win, right? Yes, finally. Before his late-game dramatics, Smith played well. He ran the floor hard, putting himself in excellent position to receive Jennings’ passes, and Smith led Detroit in finishing Jennings’ assists tonight with five. Though Smith took too many longs 2s – seven – he made a respectable three of them.

Andre Drummond, C Shot Chart 27 MIN | 5-9 FG | 3-7 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 5 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +2

Drummond protected the rim like Mutombo, shoring up many of the help-defense complaints lodged against him lately. Add his typical strong performance on the glass and buckets inside he makes look easy, and I’d take this every night from Drummond.

Brandon Jennings, PG Shot Chart 42 MIN | 4-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 18 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | +13

With 11 first-quarter assists, Jennings tied Isiah Thomas’ franchise record for assists in a quarter. With 16 first-half assists, Jennings tied Thomas’ franchise record for assists in a half. Jennings ran the offense excellently tonight, setting an NBA season high for assists in a game by pushing the ball and making pinpoint passes to the right players. I don’t want that to get lost. But in the midst of that stellar point guard play, Jennings brought the ball up and immediately forced an off-balance 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in the first quarter and 19 seconds on the shot clock. The Pistons probably should have held the ball to prevent Phoenix from having a chance to run a full play, but at minimum, they should have worked for a better shot. I don’t want to make too much out of a single bad decision, but it’s infuriating when Jennings does something like that, because fixing the problem takes just a little mental discipline. Tonight, it was a small negative mark in a strong body of work – that was also brought down by poor shooting and unimpressive defense – but what about if the stakes become higher? Jennings wasting possessions could be a huge deal if the Pistons grow like management hopes, and for all his progress, Jennings has given little indication he’s ready to quit forcing bad shots.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG Shot Chart 27 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | -6

Caldwell-Pope hit a 3-pointer and then beat everyone upcourt for a transition layup for a personal 5-0 run after the Suns tied the game at 92-92. That was a huge sequence for the Pistons and the rookie. On Detroit’s first possession, Caldwell-Pope brought the ball upcourt and initiated the offense, perhaps a symbol they trust him more? Or just Maurice Cheeks becoming infatuated with Jennings playing off the ball?

Charlie Villanueva, PF Shot Chart 8 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -4

Villanueva got all his playing time to start the second quarter, most of those minutes coming with Drummond. If Villanueva was on the court to stretch the floor and create looks for Drummond, it barely worked. Drummond had two shots in the six minutes they shared – a quick miss right after a Phoenix turnover in which Villanueva wasn’t even in the picture and later a made layup off a cut through the paint, but on the latter, the defense ignored Villanueva beyond the arc to focus on Drummond, who converted anyway. Whatever Villanueva was supposed to do on offense as a member of the rotation, the downside was greater. Detroit had an offensive rating of 86.0 with him on the court tonight, lowest of any Piston.

Kyle Singler, SF Shot Chart 26 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 6 TO | 6 PTS | -3

Singler was active inside on both ends, following an impressive Smith transition block with one of his own when the ball bounced right to a Sun. Ultimately, Singler was too sloppy and too cold from the perimeter.

Will Bynum, PG Shot Chart 23 MIN | 6-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -11

The offense’s downturn from Jennings running it to Bynum running it was immense. But Bynum hit a few key shots as the Pistons were floundering in the second half and really losing their way. Bynum has been through too much in his life to get frazzled by blowing a second half lead.

Rodney Stuckey, SG Shot Chart 21 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -3

Stuckey never seemed integrated in what the rest of the team was doing. His 21 minutes were his most in 19 days, which included a three-game absence due to injury. He’s back, but clearly needs more time to be back.

Maurice Cheeks

The Suns opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run against lineups of Bynum, Jennings, Caldwell-Pope/Stuckey, Singler and Drummond/Monroe – three guards plus Singler at power forward. I’m starting to see why these second-half collapses – the Pistons led by 18 early in the third quarter – are happening. Or is Cheeks just tanking? Quirky lineups are a classic move by tanking teams. If Cheeks isn’t tanking, his rotations were horrid tonight. This was one of the occasional games where Smith, Monroe and Drummond played well together. They had energy to run the floor and cut, and the Phoenix doesn’t have the size to match them. Smith, Monroe and Drummond were +2 in 13 minutes. But the Suns made a few 3-pointers, and Cheeks panicked. Cheeks gave 11 minutes to a lineup of Bynum, Jennings, a third guard (either Caldwell-Pope or Stuckey) and Singler as the power forward. For a majority of that time, Smith was the nominal center, though Drummond and Monroe also had turns. In those 11 minutes, the Pistons were -16. -16 in 11 minutes! On a cursory level, I at least get the idea of going small to contest Phoenix’s 3s, though I didn’t think the Pistons’ 3-point defense was struggling because Detroit was too big. But slotting so many players into assignments they’re not used to is asking for disaster. Bynum or Jennings defending the two? Caldwell-Pope or Stuckey defending the three? Singler defending the four? Smith defending the five? When so many players don’t know they’re doing, the problems grow exponentially. Somehow, the Pistons overcame that tonight.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe Josh Smith Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Kyle Singler Maurice Cheeks Phoenix Suns Rodney Stuckey THN-PHO Will Bynum

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