5 Rousing Wins

Pistons put up their best fights against top teams, often on the road

We started the week with a look at 10 games the Pistons could have – in many cases, should have – won, and how those 10 games almost certainly cost them a playoff berth.

(And to all those folks who submitted Pistons Mailbag questions that began with, “I’d rather be in the lottery and keep our pick than get in as the No. 8 seed and get swept by Indiana or Miami,” well, what are you thinking now with the Pacers looking two steps beyond vulnerable against Atlanta, a team the Pistons dumped on the road in the season’s final days?)

Now let’s end the week with five rousing wins, a representative number, given that the disappointing losses outnumbered rousing wins by roughly a 2:1 ratio.

There are a few telling things about those wins, too. Four of them came in a 16-day span of December. And all four of them came on the road. The Pistons had something going then. There were still some head-scratching losses thrown into the mix, but the team had been together for less than a quarter of a season, so inconsistency was still to be expected at that point. The wins away from home were especially encouraging, too.

When the new general manager and his cabinet sit down to study the season that’s over for insight as to how to approach the season ahead, they’ll want to look at the details of those disappointing losses to learn how to bolster their weaknesses. But they’ll also want to look at those five rousing wins to see how their strengths might be better and more often exploited.

Here are the five best wins of the season:

  • Game 18 at Miami – The Pistons were coming off a 15-point win over Philadelphia in which Andre Drummond put together perhaps his best career game to that point with personal highs in points (31), rebounds (19) and steals (six). But doing it at home against arguably the NBA’s worst team is different than doing it on the road against the best, the two-time defending champion Heat. And that they won, 107-97, while holding off a Miami charge – the Heat cut a 17-point deficit to three with more than four minutes still to play – made it even more satisfying. Kyle Singler hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range and Drummond overcame early foul trouble to finish with 10 points and 18 rebounds.

  • Game 20 at Chicago – Yeah, the Bulls were missing three huge pieces – Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler – but this is team that won a playoff series last spring with a lineup in tatters. And the Pistons were pretty beat up, too. Three of the top four guards at the time – Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups – missed virtually the entire game, with Stuckey limping to the bench with knee tendinitis after a brief appearance. And the Pistons lugged a 14-game United Center losing streak into Chicago. It was a hand-to-hand combat type of game for the first half and the Pistons had to win on a night they didn’t get their typical frontcourt production: Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith combined to make only 9 of 32 shots. But the game showed resolve and ingenuity – the Pistons had to win a different way. They shackled Chicago, holding the Bulls to nine third-quarter points, Brandon Jennings scored 33 points while shouldering a heavy load in the depleted backcourt and Josh Harrellson came off the bench to spark the rally that led to second-half separation. The Pistons came out of the game at 10-10 and seemed headed north in a hurry.

  • Game 26 at Indiana – The Pistons were coming off a crushing home loss 24 hours earlier when a 13-point fourth-quarter lead was lost and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers won 111-109 in overtime. They went from playing the 21-4 Blazers to the 20-3 Indiana Pacers, who had been off the past three days and were waiting at home, where the Pacers were undefeated. The Pistons scored 101 points against the NBA’s No. 1 defense, which yielded an average of 89, and Josh Smith led the way with 30 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. They won with Rodney Stuckey again limited, this time by a shoulder injury, and by again getting big contributions off the bench from Josh Harrellson, who had nine rebounds in the first half alone when Andre Drummond sat for all but three minutes with foul trouble. “Tonight was a character game,” Greg Monroe said afterward.

  • Game 27 at Boston – This one gets an asterisk. It sure didn’t seem like a candidate for the season’s best win before tipoff, simply because the Celtics, who took a 12-14 record into the game, didn’t swim in the same pond as the Miamis, Chicagos and Indianas of the NBA. And it sure didn’t seem like a candidate for any “best wins” list when Boston scored 42 points in the second quarter and led by 21. The win continued the recent theme of resolve – winning at Miami in the face of a Heat comeback, winning at Chicago to snap the 14-game losing streak despite a depleted backcourt, winning at Indiana despite early Drummond foul trouble and another injury to Stuckey – that the Pistons simply couldn’t sustain once the calendar flipped to 2014. Jennings was brilliant again with 28 points and 14 assists, while Drummond added 14 points and 16 rebounds.

  • Game 51 vs. San Antonio – The Pistons, 21-29 after 50 games but still very much in the thick of the playoff chase, turned to John Loyer to coach the season’s final 32 games. It was just before the All-Star break and the 37-14 San Antonio Spurs were coming to town. It was about as complete a team win as the Pistons registered all season. After three quarters, they had six players in double figures and a seventh one point away. They held the league’s No. 1 3-point shooting team both well under its average and well under its average number of attempts. The Pistons came out of the night tied with Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East.
  • That, of course, was as close as they would come to the playoffs for the rest of the season. The confidence in their ability to execute at the level required to win close games waned. As the playoffs slipped farther from their view the disappointment of the season weighed heavily on the Pistons.

    But they flashed too much potential on too many nights against too many powerful opponents for anyone to believe there isn’t a solution within reach. Finding that solution now becomes the charge of a new management team.