Furious Finale

Charlie V’s dustup a fitting Palace finish to turbulent Pistons season

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Rodney Stuckey’s late-season renaissance continued with perhaps his best game of a four-game stretch in which he is now averaging 24.3 points and 9.8 assists while shooting 50 percent (31 of 62) from the field. As impressive as his 94.3 percent free-throw accuracy is over that stretch, it’s just as notable that he’s gotten to the line nearly nine times per game – 35 overall. Stuckey also committed just two turnovers against the Cavs.

BLUE COLLAR – When Greg Monroe got hit with two fouls in the first four minutes, John Kuester had to turn to Jason Maxiell much faster than usual. Maxiell responded by hitting the boards hard, grabbing 11 in 20 first-half minutes and finishing with a season-high 14 in 32 minutes. Maxiell’s four offensive rebounds were a big reason the Pistons were above to outrebound Cleveland 24-14 overall in the first half and lead by a point at halftime.

RED FLAG – Daniel Gibson five-point play to give Cleveland a 79-72 lead with 3:07 left in the third quarter gave the Cavs real breathing room for the first time, turning a two-point game into a seven-point game. The Pistons would never get closer than six points for the rest of the game. Gibson nailed a 3-point basket with Rip Hamilton challenging him – Gibson scored 17 off the bench and hit 4 of 7 from the 3-point arc – that drew a foul on Hamilton. When Hamilton protested the call, he was also given a technical foul. That gave Gibson two free throws atop his 3-point make, and he drained both of them.

The last glimpse home fans got of the Pistons was their 2010-11 season in microcosm, complete with a Charlie Villanueva ejection after a confrontation with Cleveland’s Ryan Hollins that symbolized the frustration and tumult of a year that never quite gained the traction needed for an honest run at the playoffs.

Ultimately, the home finale ended the way too many other nights over the course of their season ended – in defeat.

The Pistons – playing without Tracy McGrady, Will Bynum and Ben Wallace, not to mention Jonas Jerebko, whose injury in the first quarter of the preseason opener set an ominous tone – lost 110-101 to Cleveland, which saw four bench players score in double figures.

But the takeaway from the game will be the wrestling and shoving that ensued when Villanueva and Hollins locked up after Villanueva attempted to set a pick. Villanueva made contact low, then Hollins responded by grabbing Villanueva around the shoulders and walking him back. That’s when Villanueva’s arms came up and teammates from both sides moved in to prevent either one from throwing a punch.

After the referees huddled and ejected both, Villanueva needed to be restrained by Rodney Stuckey and others as he attempted to get at Hollins. Villaneuva needed to be restrained again later, underneath the stands, from entering Cleveland’s locker room to further engage Hollins.

What started it?

“He threw an elbow (at the other end on the possession before the incident that led to the dual ejection),” Villanueva said. “Caught me in my lip. Just told him to watch the elbow and he said something real smart, so I got angry. Heat of the moment. That’s about it. It’s something that happened on the court. It should stay on the court. I overreacted. He said some things that kind of got me upset.”

“I saw Ryan Hollins give him a shot down at the other end, then I saw Charlie set a pick on him, then I saw them grab each other,” Austin Daye said. “I thought they were just holding each other, being nice, but then it kind of got physical.”

“I think Hollins got him with an elbow at our end,” John Kuester said. “That’s all I know. They I saw them tangled up. He was upset. He was ready to go. But that’s part of the NBA. It’s an emotional game and Charlie was upset. He’s a competitor.”

Other than that, the game was notable for two things: another big game for Rodney Stuckey, his 29 points and 14 assists giving him three double-doubles in his last four games, and the appearance of Tom Gores, three days after it was announced he had reached agreement with Karen Davidson to purchase the Pistons.

If Gores hadn’t seen too many Pistons games this season, he got a clear example of why the Pistons will take a 29-52 record with them to Philadelphia for Wednesday’s season finale. They took a 10-point lead in the first quarter but again couldn’t maintain it, and largely it was because they again made it too easy for the other team to score. Cleveland, 25th in the NBA in scoring at 95.2, beat its season average by 15 against the Pistons, last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage.

“We didn’t defend the ball very well,” Kuester said. “Pick and roll defense – we couldn’t stop their penetration at times. They kept attacking us.”

The loss locked the Pistons into the No. 7 position for the May 17 draft lottery. That means the Pistons have seven possible draft positions: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 or 10, though the odds of picking ninth or 10th are infinitesimal. The Pistons will have a 4.3 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick, 4.9 percent for No. 2 and 5.8 percent for No. 3. Their likeliest slot by far is to land at No. 7, 59.9 percent, followed by a 23.3 percent chance to pick No. 8. The Pistons picked seventh last June, drafting Greg Monroe.

The draft crop got a little thinner on Monday, though, with the news that Baylor’s Perry Jones, a 6-foot-11 freshman ranked consistently as a top-five pick, is likely headed back to school despite facing an NCAA suspension of five games.

But the draft will merely be the first step in an expected off-season makeover, one that can’t begin in earnest until a new collective bargaining agreement is struck between NBA owners and the Players Association. Unless the sides beat expectations and reach a deal before June 30 – by which time the sale of the Pistons will have closed – Tom Gores will have a hand in not only reshaping the Pistons, but contributing to the NBA’s new business model, as well.