Wire to Wire

Kuester goes to zone at perfect time as Pistons trounce Bucks

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons talked about the importance of chemistry throughout training camp and the early season, but they’d been groping to strike the right balance as they struggled to a 5-10 start. But against a Milwaukee team that came into the game No. 1 in points allowed, the Pistons put up 103 and shot .562 from the field. They registered assists on 28 of their 41 baskets and had seven players score between 11 and 18 points. Even though the Bucks played without All-Star center Andrew Bogut, it was the most impressive start-to-finish performance of the season for the Pistons.

BLUE COLLAR – Give John Kuester props for a timely call to switch to the zone defense to start the fourth quarter. Not only did it protect Rodney Stuckey, who had picked up his fifth foul midway through the third quarter, but it virtually eliminated Milwaukee’s bread-and-butter play – the pick and roll with Brandon Jennings. The Pistons took an 11-point lead into the quarter but stretched it to 19 in less than four minutes by outscoring the Bucks 12-4 as the three-guard lineup of Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum provided terrific ball movement and also swarmed Milwaukee’s perimeter within the zone.

RED FLAG – Will Bynum’s offense is coming around – he was 8 of 17 over his last three games after his shooting percentage hovered in the low 30s through the first three weeks of the season – and that trend continued Friday. Bynum said he was more comfortable than usual, partly because Rodney Stuckey’s foul trouble gave him more playing time and partly because he got to play with Stuckey and Ben Gordon, a grouping that gives the Pistons a different look. But Bynum’s defense on Milwaukee’s lightning quick Brandon Jennings caused the Pistons problems in the first half. The Pistons were 12 points ahead when Bynum replaced Stuckey with 1:50 left in the first quarter. Jennings immediately began going to the basket on virtually every Milwaukee possession as Bynum struggled to keep him out of the paint, though it wasn’t all on Bynum – the Bucks were also using a high percentage of pick-and-roll plays that requires other defenders to get into the mix. Bynum played 5:38 in that stint and Milwaukee – held to just 18 points in the first quarter and 14 with Stuckey in the game – outscored the Pistons 16-7.

The glaring lesson of the first half of the Pistons-Milwaukee Bucks Friday night matchup was that both teams had a matchup problem at point guard. For Milwaukee, it was when Rodney Stuckey used his great size and strength advantage to overpower Brandon Jennings around the basket. For the Pistons, it was when Stuckey went to the bench and Will Bynum struggled to keep the ultraquick Jennings out of the lane when the Bucks fed him a consistent diet of pick and roll.

So when Stuckey went to the bench midway through the third quarter with his fifth foul, advantage Bucks.

But a slick coaching maneuver by John Kuester muted Milwaukee’s advantage and appeared to catch the Bucks off guard. Kuester gambled by bringing Stuckey back in to start the fourth quarter with the Pistons up 11 points. He hedged his bet, though, by deploying a zone defense that not only protected Stuckey from picking up his sixth foul, it also took away the one weapon that was giving the Pistons trouble all night: Jennings on the pick and roll.

The Pistons blew the game open by the midway point of the quarter, stretching their lead to 23 points before settling for a 103-89 win that made for a rare and welcome wire-to-wire win and also allowed the Pistons to jump over Milwaukee in the Central Division standings.

“We had three (guards) in at that time and we said, ‘Let’s see what happens with the zone,’ ” Kuester said after perhaps the most complete Pistons game of the season. “The players really enjoyed it and did a great job with it.”

With Stuckey, Bynum and Ben Gordon playing with Ben Wallace – making a rare fourth-quarter appearance, a suggestion Kuester assistant Brian Hill made to him in the break between quarters – and Charlie Villanueva, the Pistons outscored 12-4 in the first 3:24 of the quarter to stretch an 11 points lead to 19 and coast to the win.

The Stuckey-Bynum-Gordon combination is one that’s been used sparingly this season but one Kuester had a preference for early last season before injuries took Gordon and Bynum out of the equation.

“It just felt good to finally be out there for over 16 minutes,” Bynum said after his best offensive game of the season – 13 points and four assists with just one turnover in 25 minutes. “It felt good to finally play with Stuckey and Ben Gordon at the same time. I haven’t played with those guys all season. Hopefully, we impressed some people.”

Stuckey had 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting to go with seven assists and two turnovers as he muscled the slight Jennings by taking him in the post early.

“That was just trying to establish that early, when the game got started,” he said. “I got down there and got some assists, got it going. We had a good first quarter. I just have a lot of options when I’m down there. I can take it myself or look for my teammates and it’s something I’m going to continue to try to get better at.”

Gordon had a quiet first three quarters, getting off just one shot attempt and scoring only on three free throws. But he gave the Pistons eight quick points in the fourth, including a four-point play that stretched the lead to 19.

The Bucks were without Andrew Bogut, which only partially excuses the way the Pistons abused a defense that came into the game No. 1 in the NBA in points allowed at 90.5 per game and No. 3 in field-goal percentage defense at .428. The Pistons shot .562 and scored 26 points or better in three of the four quarters.

“The guys did a great job,” Kuester said. “Twenty-eight assists on 41 field goals, 56 percent shooting against one of the best defensive teams in the league. When we’re sharing the basketball, when we’re valuing the basketball, we’ll be very competitive.”

It was the kind of night Kuester and the Pistons envisioned over the summer when they looked at their strengths – a number of perimeter scorers – and concluded that if the chemistry got right, they’d score enough points to give themselves a chance to win a lot of games. In a season of fits and starts so far, Friday was the best evidence yet that they might well have been right.