Daye-ng: Austin Daye shows promise, but can’t deliver victory over Heat

Austin Daye is growing up in front of our eyes. Unfortunately, the progress didn’t come quickly enough tonight.

By making the Pistons’ biggest basket and missing the Pistons’ biggest shot against the Heat, in a matter of minutes, Daye showed us how far he has come and how far he has to go.

With the Pistons trailing by one with 2.7 seconds left, John Kuester designed a beautiful play. Tayshaun Prince threw a beautiful inbound pass to a cutting Daye. The rest was anything but beautiful for the Pistons.

Daye missed the dunk, and the Heat escaped with an 88-87 victory. James Jones challenged the shot, and he fouled Daye at least once by pushing Daye’s the gut in the air, and maybe a second time by pushing Daye’s shooting hand. But Daye must get a little stronger, and when he does, he’ll make shots like that, anyway.

The Pistons didn’t play amazingly tonight, but they showed more positive than negative. That would have been easier to stomach if Daye made the final shot, though.

Daye’s disappointing miss came 1:06 after Daye made one of the biggest shots of his career – and he’s already compiled an impressive lists of big shots. The Pistons had finally relented the lead to the charging Heat late in the fourth quarter when Daye received a kick-out pass. He was open, but he stood well behind the 3-point line and Jones was speeding toward him.

Daye paused.

All night, the Heat’s swarming defense and physical play bothered him. He flashed brilliance throughout the game, but his erratic tendencies showed why he’s not ready to shoulder a bigger load yet. Daye turned the ball over three times with sloppy decisions, committed five fouls and missed nine of his first 14 shots.

But by the end of the game, Daye began to play within himself. He minimized his mistakes and stopped letting the Heat bother him. Games like this will aid his growth on a macro level, but it already began to show on a micro level.

So, as Jones flew toward him, Daye took a dribble forward and ducked slightly. Jones sailed right past, and Daye pulled up for what looked like it could have been the game-winning 3-pointer.

Daye will make plenty more plays like that in his career. His future is bright.

But his present is still partially cloudy, even if plenty of sunlight pokes through – a harsh reality for the Pistons tonight.

Ben Gordon was best defensive option on Eddie House

Austin Daye had a chance to be the hero, but the hero was actually Eddie House, who made a pair of free throws with six seconds left for the game’s final points.

House got to the line by putting the ball on the floor and drawing a Ben Gordon foul. House isn’t the most adept at scoring off the dribble, and Gordon bailed him out by fouling. Gordon wasn’t in the best position, and that’s why he fouled. My thought process developed thusly:

  1. Why on earth was Gordon in the game for defense?
  2. Well, I guess you want good free-throw shooters in the game in case you get the rebound.
  3. But making the stop should come first.

At this point, I was pretty upset with John Kuester for letting the game slip away by playing Gordon. But after reflecting, Gordon was the best man to guard House. Who would have been better?

Tracy McGrady? That would have left Gordon on Mike Miller, an even more unfavorable scenario.

Daye? Daye’s best defensive attribute, his length, would barely bother House’s high-arcing shot. Plus, that would have left Gordon on the much-taller James Jones.

Tayshaun Prince? He had to guard LeBron.

Will Bynum? He’s awful at following his man around off-ball screens, which is House’s specialty.

Gordon is far from great defensively, but putting him on House was sadly the Pistons’ best chance of stopping the Heat. Detroit really missed the injured Rodney Stuckey on that play.

Tracy McGrady falls two rebounds short of triple-double

Tracy McGrady played a fantastic all-around game, finishing with 14 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

This was the second time McGrady flirted with a triple-double this season. He had 11 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds against the Jazz earlier this month.

He’s forcing his shot more often, and that’s why he made just 6-of-17 attempts tonight. But when he has double-digit assists, I can live with that. The question becomes how he can handle games like this.

With the Pistons’ rotation shortened to eight, McGrady played a season-high 38 minutes. Are his legs ready for that increased load?

Inflated rebounding

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team as reluctant to try for offensive rebounds as the Heat were tonight. I certainly have never noticed it before.

Teams must balance crashing the offensive glass and getting back on defense, and every coach handles that tradeoff differently. But the Heat took it to an extreme tonight.

On the Heat’s third possession, they had three offensive rebounds. After that, the Heat grabbed 19.4 percent of available offensive rebounds. For context, no team has ever had a season with an offensive-rebounding percentage so low.

In fact, all nine of the Heat’s offensive rebounds came on plays where trying to crash the offensive glass wouldn’t have made securing the offensive rebound any more likely – seven after missed 3-pointers and two after blocked shots.

The two biggest benefactors of the Miami’s strategy were Austin Daye (nine defensive rebounds, two offensive rebounds) and Tracy McGrady (eight defensive rebounds, one offensive rebound).*

*A player whose rebounding wasn’t inflated was Chris Wilcox, who played with tremendous energy in his first game off the bench in 11 contests. Wilcox grabbed 10 rebounds, eight offensive. If John Kuester was considering starting Austin Daye regularly, not just because of this matchup, Wilcox will certainly make him think twice.

The Heat’s strategy was probably sound, and it appeared to work.

They’re not a good offensive-rebounding team, ranking 22nd in the NBA in offensive-rebounding percentage. Plus, they were missing their two leaders in total offensive rebounds – Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So, a high effort to get offensive rebounds might not have paid dividends.

Focusing on getting back on defense worked. Miami held the Pistons to 38-percent shooting.

Erick Spoelstra is a heck of a coach. In the unlikely even Pat Riley returns to the bench, Spoelstra would become my top choice for the Pistons’ coach next year.

Ben Gordon excels as offensive centerpiece

It’s no coincidence Ben Gordon had his best true-shooting percentage (.622) in 16 days during the same game he got the most shots (16) in 32 days.

Gordon needs touches to get into a rhythm, and when in the flow of the game, can take a lot of difficult shots for the Pistons, like he did tonight. When he does that, everyone else becomes more efficient.

No doubt boosted by the absence of Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton, Gordon led the Pistons with 21 points. He had a pep in his step that I haven’t seen from him in a little while. There have been recent games when Gordon has been the primary scoring option, but it’s been quite some time since he knew ahead of time he’d fill that role.

Going forward, the Pistons will need a (read: one) capable scorer with the ball in his hands to complement a frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko. Gordon, Stuckey, Hamilton, Prince, Villanueva and Bynum are all candidates to fill that role.

Gordon made a strong case tonight for it be him.