It was a strange night at The Palace.
- The Pistons became the third Detroit team, along with the Lions and Red Wings, to play overtime today.
- Tayshaun Prince smiled on the court (after blocking Jason Smith).
- Ben Wallace played nearly 14 minutes before grabbing a rebound.
Perhaps strangest of all, the Pistons won. For just their first victory this season over a team with a winning record and all five starters healthy, the Pistons beat the Hornets, 111-108.
Instead of griping about lesser-of-two-evil lineup changes, we can hold enjoyable debates – like did Gordon or Bynum do more to show they deserve larger roles? Heck, DaJuan Summers and Prince made cases for enhanced roles, too. This game will be just plain fun to unpack.
Ben Gordon angles for a bigger role
Ben Gordon comes off the bench for two main reasons – a true professional, he never complains about it and his production throughout his career has been nearly identical either way.
But until joining the Pistons, he’s always had a clear role. He was the Bulls’ scorer, and that didn’t change whether he started or not. Now, if Gordon comes off the bench, he’s treated like a backup. Now, starting makes a difference.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to Gordon if his 0-for-7 first half had come in a game he didn’t start. Would he have stuck with it like he did tonight? Keep in mind, most of those seven shots were good shots. And despite the misses, Gordon was rebounding. He was in this game from his first possession.
Still, Gordon hasn’t shown this type of focus and determination during the course of a full game when coming off the bench this year. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
After halftime, Gordon turned into the player I thought ranked on the fringe of the league’s best scorers. He scored 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the final 29 minutes. It was a complete scoring performance – shooting from the outside, driving inside and getting to the line.
Especially after the first half, I thought this season – the losing and coming off the bench – may have damaged Gordon’s psyche. I’m not sure whether the second half showed he was fine or fixed him, but it doesn’t matter.
This is the Ben Gordon the Pistons signed. I think you’ll look back at this game as a turning point for him.
I don’t expect Richard Hamilton to regain his starting job anytime soon.
Will Bynum angles for a bigger role
Until tonight, Bynum had a couple solid games, a bunch of bad ones and no very good ones. He played very well tonight – making 8-of-10 shots for 21 points and dishing nine assists. He managed the offense like he’d shown he could in previous years and wasn’t afraid to take big shots late.
Whatever was bothering him earlier in the season clearly didn’t show up tonight.
Detractors will point out his five turnovers and inability to get through screens quickly. For them, I have two words: Chris Paul. The best point guard in the game stole the ball from Bynum twice and pressured him much more. And getting through a screen in a timely fashion proves much more difficult when the speedy Paul is using it.
Bynum wasn’t perfect tonight, but his plusses substantially outweighed his minuses.
DaJuan Summers angles for a bigger role
Playing his first meaningful minutes since against the Hawks on Nov. 3 and in just his sixth game this season, DaJuan Summers provided the spark the Pistons needed. He made an ultra-efficient two 3-pointers and a dunk in four shots.
His seven minutes played a key part in the Pistons’ victory.
Tayshaun Prince angles for a bigger role
"Tayshaun Prince’s block capitalizes what might be his defensive performance in years."
"No doubt. RT @PistonPowered: Prince’s block capitalizes what might be his defensive performance in years."
If Skeets said it, it must be true.
At his best lately, Prince took responsibility for his own man. He didn’t appear to show interest in rotating and helping his teammates. Tonight, he was all over the court.
His man-to-man defense played a large part in Trevor Ariza shooting 2-of-11 with five turnovers. Prince, who blocked three shots and added a steal, also did whatever he could on rotations.
It wasn’t just a defensive focus. It was a mentality. Prince also had 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
The numbers don’t always have to be so spectacular, but that’s how I’d like to see Prince play every night. The Pistons used to rely on Prince to defend the opposing team’s best wing, no matter what. That’s no longer the case, but the way he played tonight, Prince could do it again.
Rotation going forward
Summers is the easiest to discount. He’s played like this before, but he doesn’t belong in the rotation. This team has enough better players that he’s still on the outside looking in.
I hope Prince can take on a larger role, because his wouldn’t involve more minutes. Sadly, I’d be surprised if he does. I’m not sure he desires to play like this every game anymore. That would take a lot of effort, and after competing for a title for so many years, I don’t think he’s that invested in this losing team.
Gordon showed he’s on the right track. It would be a shame to spoil his progress by sending him back to the bench. The Pistons ate that 0-for-7 first half in order to let him shoot his way back into a rhythm, and I understand that’s a sunk cost, but it just wouldn’t feel right to banish him to the bench again.
Bynum is the most interesting case. McGrady has proven himself capable of running the second unit, and I think everyone who plays benefits from a shorter rotation. So, if Richard Hamilton misses an extended amount of time, that could open the door for Bynum to keep playing. Otherwise, Kuester has a difficult decision to make. I won’t use hindsight to criticize him on this one, because no clear-cut solution exists.
Jason Maxiell’s quietly stellar day
Jason Maxiell had a prime cases of the box score* not telling the whole story.
*For the record, two points, no rebounds, an assist, a turnover, two steals and a block in 21 minutes.
Maxiell didn’t enter the game until late in the third quarter. As is often the case when a player enters so late, Maxiell had a singular assignment – slow David West.
West still scored, but with Maxiell playing the game’s final 21 minutes, Westworked a little harder for his game-high 32 points.
West gave Maxiell some difficulty outside the paint, but when West went down low, Maxiell pushed him from the spots West wanted. That led to either a forced shot or the Hornets going away from West.
On the down side, such a focus on West hurt Maxiell’s rebounding. John Kuester removed Maxiell from the rotation because Maxiell doesn’t always focus on boxing out. That happened again tonight.
So, in all, a great effort from Maxiell for giving the Pistons what they needed tonight – but not the type of effort that will earn him more playing time.
Regardless of whether he plays more, this was an awesome way to all but seal the victory:
Richard Hamilton’s absence
"@vgoodwill @Chris_Iott @Stareagle Was the Gordon start strictly because of Hamilton’s illness, or did the two happen to coincide."
"@justin_rogers Pure coincidence. The T-Mac start was the one due to a late injury."
"@Stareagle Just to be clear, you’re saying Gordon would have started even if Hamilton was healthy?"
"@PistonPowered We’ll have to ask Kue to be 100% sure, but there’s good reason to believe that."
Short nights for Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe
Fans often blame John Kuester for sticking with his comfort zone rather than what’s working. Overall, I think that’s a misperception, and tonight was a good example.
I hate to end this on a down note, but I think it’s necessary. What I wrote in the game preview still holds relevancy:
"Speaking of pride, Michael McNamara of Hornets247.com alerted me to an interesting trend.The Hornets are just 1-3 on Sundays. Although two of those losses came to the Spurs, neither was close. The Hornets’ loss to the 76ers wasn’t close, either. And New Orleans’ win came by just four points over the Kings.As Pistons fans should know, Sunday losses might not be a coincidence."
I hope we look back at the end of the year and see the Hornets went 9-4 on Sundays, and this slow Sunday start is just pure coincidence. But the way the blew a 10-point halftime lead today, don’t count on it.
This win might mean as much as it appears to mean.