Back on Track

Pistons win third quarter, go on to road win at Toronto

TEAM COLORS

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

– Tracy McGrady has proven to be dominant at the point, leading the team with a season high 22 points, and helping create opportunities for his teammates with five assists. “He did a great job,” John Kuester said of his versatile guard. “I was very impressed with his pace of the game, his control, making big plays when we needed some big plays going down the stretch. We pretty much put 48 minutes together.”

BLUE COLLAR – Rookie Greg Monroe has been the shiny new diamond on the Pistons’ roster as of late. Monroe came into Friday’s game carrying four straight double-doubles, carving out heavy minutes of playing time and assertively stepping into a starting role after Ben Wallace tweaked his left ankle in the opening minutes against Chicago Monday night. The rookie didn’t get his fifth straight double-double but he scored 12 and was just shy of the double-double mark with seven rebounds on the night.

RED FLAG – The only major threat Toronto seemed to pose to Detroit was the point-packing presence of Andrea Bargnani. The former No. 1 draft pick drained 31 points and added nine rebounds and three assists. Bargnani’s efforts were still not enough to hinder the Pistons’ success at any point of the game – not even during the third quarter. Monroe kept the 7-footer under control for the most part and Kuester noticed. “Guarding Bargnani is as difficult as anybody out on the perimeter because you know what he does. He’s a strong right hand and he ball fakes,” Kuester said. “That’s where Greg, I thought, did a great job (in guarding him).”

The Pistons put an end to their third-quarter woes with a lead-protecting performance in the quarter that has bedeviled them, putting an end to their five-game road losing streak with a convincing 101-95 win in Toronto. With a disappointing 12-26 record looming over the Pistons’ season, they took to Toronto looking to bounce back and further avenge their December loss to the Raptors at The Palace, when they squandered a 25-point lead and lost. And they did just that.

The Raptors went on an 11-2 run in the third, but the Pistons still led by nine points at the end of the quarter after leading by seven at halftime. The Pistons outscored a total of 22-20 in the quarter with Tracy McGrady scoring 10, including a clutch triple in the last two seconds. They might have won the quarter by just two points, but they won nonetheless, proving to fans and critics that the team can find its way through adversity. When asked what they had done differently at the half, John Kuester said, “we made a little adjustment at halftime and guys responded,” jokingly adding, “I didn’t talk as much.” Kuester continued to test a new lineup with McGrady at the point and Rodney Stuckey at shooting guard with Greg Monroe, Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox in the frontcourt, a combination that has proved to work well in its beginning stages. McGrady showed poise and leadership running the point, putting up a season-high 22 points. His best before Friday night was 21 points against Boston in December.

“I am focused every game, but when you have an arena that boos you, I think that you put a little more focus into it,” said McGrady on playing his former team. Stuckey followed with 19 and Charlie Villanueva came out strong off the bench, adding 16 points and eight rebounds. “The team did a good job of finding me. I just felt the rhythm in that first half,” said Villanueva on his performance, which served as a catalyst for the Pistons’ seven-point lead going into the half. “I think with (McGrady) handling the ball, it changes the offense a little bit and he’s a very unselfish player, but at the same time demands a lot of attention. Seems like every game he’s getting a lot more comfortable and it showed today.”

“I feel that I am a great decision-maker and I feel the ball should be in my hands, making plays for teammates,” McGrady said. “That is what I thrive off of, making my teammates better. There is no greater feeling than that. Having the ball has given confidence to me and my teammates.”

Monroe continued to surge with a performance that again defied his rookie status. He came into the game with four straight double-doubles to his name. While he missed out on making it five straight, going for 12 and seven boards, he was no doubt happy to walk away with a win.

“He’s as wonderful a kid to coach as you’ll find in this league,” Kuester said after riding Monroe for a team-high 38 minutes. “That’s been such a breath of fresh air to have somebody that wants to continually learn.”

Will Bynum made his first appearance since Jan. 4. Bynum didn’t see a great deal of PT- just 13 minutes- but added six points, a rebound and a key assist to the Pistons’ cause.

“I was very proud of Will,” Kuester said. “We hadn’t played him in a while and he came up and stepped to the plate.”

The Pistons got a win on the road and shook off their third-quarter troubles before returning home to Detroit to host the Kings, in a quick turnaround game, Saturday night at The Palace. They handed the Raptors their eighth home loss out of their last 10 games by regaining a level of consistency that had recently been plaguing the team. Now the team is on the hunt for a win streak and the opportunity to build some momentum.