Pistons have heartbreaking loss to Bulls, but Rodney Stuckey will be better for this

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I know Rodney Stuckey missed two free throws near the end of regulation, either of which would’ve made Derrick Rose’s game-tying three an irrelevant lead-cutting three in the final seconds. More on that in a second though. Rose getting that clean a look was Greg Monroe‘s fault.

The Bulls had no timeouts, Rose’s man got rubbed on a screen and, with the Bulls in need of a three, Monroe back-pedaled, as he would in most normal situations with Rose in front of him in the open court so that he doesn’t get blown by. But a blow-by at that point in the game would’ve been fine. The Bulls need a three, Monroe gave Rose a lot of space on that switch and Rose did what Rose is known for doing, hit a big shot to send the game to overtime. (NOTE: Just watched Lawrence Frank on Fox Sports Detroit say that the plan was to foul Rose before he could get a shot off, but Ben Gordon got too hung up in the screen to grab Rose and Monroe stayed to far back to foul before getting the shot off).

But back to Stuckey, the other factor in a poorly played final minute that erased an otherwise really good effort by the Pistons. Stuckey split at the line twice in that final minute and actually hit only 13-for-18 of his free throws in the game (72 percent compared to his season average of 84 percent). When the Pistons walked off the court as regulation ended, a visibly upset Stuckey had his jersey pulled over his head and had to be consoled by several teammates. That whole scene is a big change from a year ago, when there were times Stuckey didn’t care all that much when he was on the court and the entire Pistons team seemed hesitant to comfort or support each other in trying moments.

It’s unfortunate regulation ended that way for Stuckey, because he was brilliant in the game. He scored 32 points on just 19 shots. Chicago’s guards couldn’t keep him out of the lane and he absorbed crazy amounts of contact from the Bulls’ physical frontline as he contorted his way to the hoop. He out-played Rose (24 points on 22 shots) and really, for the first time in his career, looked like Detroit’s leader on the court. As the season wraps up, Dan and I will write much, much more about the season Stuckey has had, but moments like this, where he comes up just a bit short, show just how much he’s improved as a player in order to get the Pistons in a position to win against a much better team and matured as a leader as his teammates definitely followed the example he set with his aggressiveness, defense and energy.

On Friday, Dan wrote about Detroit’s effort against Milwaukee being close to perfect. In essence, they played well enough to win without actually winning while other teams they’re in the mix with for lottery odds won. Well, if Friday was close to perfect, tonight was fully perfect. The Pistons were more competitive against a better team, still lost and still gain lottery position as Toronto and Sacramento both won tonight.

That’s no comfort to a Pistons team that deserved this win and, I’m sure, desperately wants to end that now 15 game losing streak to Chicago. But it doesn’t have to be consolation to them. They keep showing that their young players are starting to understand the level they have to play at to win consistently in this league, they keep coming up just a bit short and, hopefully, those losses now result in improved chances at landing another impact player to help the cause next season.

Villanueva and Gordon shine … defensively?

OK, so I’m exaggerating a tad. But Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon both gave the Pistons a lift, and both guys surprisingly held their own defensively. Villanueva, who got a shot at early playing time and made the most of it, scored 13 points and had three rebounds. He’s never going to be an instinctively good defender, but he is strong enough to do what he did tonight: hold his position in the post. Chicago’s bigs are strong and have established good post position against Detroit’s frontcourt in each meeting this season. Villanueva successfully pushed Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson further away from the basket than they wanted to set up and he made a nice defensive play holding his ground against Gibson and stripping the ball from him when Gibson tried to shoot anyway.

Unfortunately, Villanueva also played a role in that fourth quarter that went really poorly late. He was called for a (completely bogus, in my opinion) flagrant foul against Rose on a layup attempt (Villanueva clearly made a play at the ball and his arm happened to make contact accidentally with Rose’s nose). Then, they jawed back and forth afterwards and Villanueva picked up a technical. So Chicago got three free throws plus the ball and ended up wiping out a four-point deficit on one possession. I think it was weak that Villanueva got the technical too. Rose was jawing way more than Villanueva, it appeared on TV. I don’t understand why it wasn’t a double technical, but whatever. It was an unfortunate cap to what was otherwise Villanueva’s best performance since last season.

As for Gordon, he made a nice defensive play blocking a C.J. Watson jumper, blocked another shot and had a steal. He didn’t provide much offense and his ball-handling was its sloppy self, but Gordon was committed and tough on defense. That hasn’t happened a lot in his Pistons career, so it’s worth pointing out, even if he didn’t score big.

Knight is good and not so good

The positive for Brandon Knight? He had seven assists, the third straight game he’s had seven or more. That’s the longest such streak he’s had this season. The not so positive? He had a season high seven turnovers. Chicago’s perimeter defense is good, but a lot of those turnovers were unforced, a result of Knight’s sloppiness moreso than Chicago’s defense. Stuckey, conversely, faced that same defense, handled the ball nearly as much and didn’t turn it over.

Knight hit five of his 10 shots and I’m really encouraged that this modest streaks hows a bit of consistency when it comes to him looking to set up other guys for good shots. I hope he can continue it until the end of the season and hope that the spike in turnovers was a one game blip.

Monroe struggles but battles

Chicago’s frontcourt has beat up on Monroe this season, and that was no different tonight. They contested virtually everything he put up and he only made 5-of-13 shots. He struggled to keep Joakim Noah off the glass (17 rebounds, 13 of which were offensive) and he had some noticeable mistakes (like the one highlighted above, for instance), but something that I liked: he still played a 41 minutes, nearly matching his season high. Frank has benched Monroe for costly miscues late in close games before. Tonight, he let Monroe play through those mistakes and stay on the court. With a back-to-back-to-back starting Tuesday, hopefully Monroe makes good use of his day off tomorrow.

This … (via)

I can’t find video but …

I thought the above dunk by Jason Maxiell was the best play of the game, until Damien Wilkins absolutely destroyed Kyle Korver on a break. I can’t do it justice with a description, but Wilkins drove hard at the basket, slowed down and acted like he was pulling the ball back out, then Korver pretty much stood straight up and looked the other way as Wilkins drove baseline for a dunk. I know I shouldn’t expect a lot out of the man who plays defense this way, but come on Kyle!

No Jonas

Jonas Jerebko received a DNP-CD most likely because he is physically over-matched against Chicago’s frontline and he’s played really poorly offensively (below 30 percent shooting) in three games vs. the Bulls this season while also not being able to defend Boozer, Noah, Gibson or Asik effectively. The bigger Villanueva got the first crack at Chicago off the bench and when he played well, I assume that’s why Jerebko didn’t get in.

I haven’t seen an injury or anything like that reported so, like Knight’s seven turnovers, I hope this is just a one-game thing and Jerebko is back in his normal role Tuesday.