The Bens bail out Pistons in win over Orlando

It was pretty clear early on that I’d be leading off tonight’s recap talking about Ben Gordon. His shot was falling early, he was aggressive and he was Detroit’s main offensive threat in Monday’s win over Orlando.

But then another Ben asserted himself with an even more improbable performance and now Gordon will have to share the intro with Ben Wallace. I have no idea how Wallace, at 37-years-old, is still capable of confounding Howard, a freak of an athlete and the best center in basketball. With Greg Monroe in early foul trouble and his replacement, Jason Maxiell, picking up two early fouls as well, Wallace came into the game and gave Howard and the Magic a variety of looks defensively. He fronted the post, he fought as Howard tried to establish post position, he shifted between bodying up Howard and pulling his weight away to get Howard off balance. Most importantly, he terrorized the Magic by getting in passing lanes. Wallace had five steals and several deflections while making it really difficult for Orlando’s guards to get the ball to Howard.

Monroe had asserted himself as Detroit’s best player so far in the season with his play over the last three games. With Monroe a non-factor due to foul trouble, it was a huge lift for the Pistons to take their most important player out of the game and not lose much.

As for offense? Gordon handled that, scoring 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting. He’s notoriously streaky, so I’m not ready to declare the old Chicago version of Gordon coming back alive. I am really excited about his early-season performance, though, and not because of his scoring. Gordon has become a much more efficient passer. He had six more assists against Orlando and is averaging more than four per game so far this season. He still takes bad, contested shots sometimes — that was a staple of his game even in Chicago — but he’s reeled them in some compared to his first two Detroit seasons (perhaps with more minutes and a large role secured, he doesn’t feel as much pressure to jack bad shots when he gets on the court). He’s turning it over a bit less and not over-dribbling.

Plus, against the Magic, he and Rodney Stuckey played pretty good defense. Orlando’s starting guards, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson, shot a combined 2-for-10 and their top guard off the bench, J.J. Redick, was 3-for-10. Now, defending that trio isn’t exactly defending Derrick Rose, but Gordon and Stuckey both contested jumpers all night, a positive sign for both players.

The Pistons had a handful of two-game winning streaks last season, but I daresay none were impressive as the two wins they just notched, largely because the team has an identity. Monroe-Jonas Jerebko are an undersized, but hard-working frontcourt. They have a trio of guards in Gordon, Stuckey and Brandon Knight who relentlessly push the pace and attack. And they have stabilizing veterans like Wallace, Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince who have all made important contributions in limited roles this season.

The Pistons were lucky to catch an Orlando team at home on the second half of a back-to-back. That probably reflected why Orlando’s shooting percentage plummeted in the second half. But credit the Pistons for taking care of their homecourt and getting a win over a quality opponent for the second straight game.

Death of the third quarter collapse?

The Pistons not only won the game, they also won the third quarter against the Magic, 24-17. On Saturday, they won it 30-20 against the Pacers. They won it against Cleveland. That’s three of five games the Pistons have played well out of halftime. It’s still too early to predict that it’s a trend, but it’s a nice change of pace over the last two years, when the Pistons were routinely run off the floor during third quarters.

Stuckey doing what Stuckey does best

Rodney Stuckey didn’t shoot the ball well and sometimes made poor decisions. But he relentlessly created contact and got to the line 13 times and drew Howard’s sixth foul in the fourth quarter. Stuckey’s defense was solid. If he plays defense and gets to the line consistently, he’s a valuable player for Detroit.

Not just jumpshooters

* Laser, this one’s for you my friend.

I have noticed a few pessimistic comments that basically insinuate the Pistons are a team of streaky jump-shooters, so there will certainly be games they get hot and look good, but in the games they don’t, things will get ugly. I don’t entirely disagree with the premise, but in the two Pistons wins this season, it hasn’t been just the jumper propelling them. They have been attacking and scoring in the paint.

One of Frank’s tenets he’s preached to the team has been protecting the paint on defense and owning it on offense. Against Orlando, they out-scored Orlando 34-30 in the paint. They out-scored Indiana 48-40 in the paint. They out-scored Boston 38-32 in the paint. The Pistons don’t have a traditional back-to-the-basket scorer, but they’ve been compensating with guards who have been attacking and big men who are active and crash the offensive glass.

Speaking of the frontcourt …

Monroe only played 22 minutes because he got in early foul trouble and he still finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. Jerebko wasn’t the offensive force he was against Indiana, but he still had 8 points, 10 rebounds and was robbed when a clean block of a Ryan Anderson breakaway dunk in the first half was inexplicably called a foul. Dwight Howard finished with 19 points, but he only had seven rebounds and blocked only one shot.

Jerebko drew an offensive follow late in the game by taking one of Howard’s huge elbows to the chest. Both Monroe and Jerebko grabbed tough defensive rebounds late as the Magic launched jumpers and sent Howard (before he fouled out) and others crashing at the offensive glass to try and trim the deficit.

With more performances like this, people will stop talking about the Pistons’ frontcourt being undersized.