Staying Alive

Pistons complete weekend sweep, rally back to beat Kings

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons’ bench logged heavy minutes and put up big numbers. With Tracy McGrady going down with a shin bruise and not playing in the second half – the word afterward was that he should be just fine – John Kuester had a three-guard rotation that saw Ben Gordon and Will Bynum combine for 57 minutes and 34 points off the bench, adding 10 assists and just two turnovers. Charlie Villanueva added 16 points in 34 minutes and gave the Pistons six points with some assertive inside scoring in the fourth quarter.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey played just nine minutes in the first half, but he was terrific in the second, playing 20 minutes and scoring 13 points while playing hard-nosed defense on Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year tore up the Pistons with 18 first-half pints, making 8 of 11 shots, and dishing out nine assists. But Stuckey smothered him in the second half, limiting Evans to 3 of 12 shooting and two assists.

RED FLAG – The comeback win was exhilarating and gives the Pistons another chance to build momentum for a playoff push – it gave them consecutive wins for the first time since beating New Orleans and Toronto in December and sets them up for Monday’s matinee against Dallas, on a five-game skid and playing without Dirk Nowitzki – but it doesn’t completely obscure a shockingly porous defensive first half in which Sacramento shot 70 percent and scored a whopping 38 points in the paint. Sacramento’s four big men combined to make 17 of 20 shots and Tyreke Evans and Jason Thompson combined to score 38 points in the first half alone.

The Pistons keep flirting with playoff extinction, then dance away from the flame with the occasional win that offers the chance to build momentum. They did some of their fanciest stepping of the season Saturday night, recovering from a porous defensive first half that saw Sacramento scorch them for 70 points only to turn it around in the second half and post a 110-106 win.

The win, coming on the heels of Friday’s victory at Toronto, leaves the Pistons with an underwhelming 14-26 record, but that’s also just three games behind Philadelphia for the No. 8 playoff seed in the East.

“It always feel good to get a win,” said Will Bynum, one of the stars of the night with two free throws and a huge blocked shot on Tyreke Evans, all in the final 20 seconds, as part of an 18-point, seven-assist night to spearhead a dynamic bench effort all the way around. “That’s two in a row, so hopefully we can try to make it three. Come out and play with the same kind of energy and defensively, how we played in the second half was big.”

The Kings, just 9-28 coming into the game but fresh off an impressive road win over the Knicks on Friday night, were spectacular offensively in building a 70-59 halftime lead. Jason Thompson had 20 points at the break and Evans 18, and the four-man frontcourt rotation of Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert combined to make 17 of 20 shots as the Kings scored 38 points in the paint and shot 70 percent.

After halftime, the Kings shot 31.7 percent and were limited to 14 points in the paint. And so the Pistons, who sport the NBA’s worst third-quarter scoring margin, got back in the game by dominating the third quarter, outscoring the Kings 23-10 to take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.

“The way we responded in the first five minutes of the third period, we gave Sacramento a little of the mojo we’ve had in our third periods,” John Kuester said. “We talked about the mental aspect – we had to be tougher mentally. We were allowing them to be so comfortable shooting the basketball.”

“We just buckled down on the defensive end,” said Charlie Villanueva, who scored 16, as did Ben Gordon, as part of the 52 points the Pistons got from their bench. “They came out strong. They were making everything, it seemed like. But we turned it up and got the stops we needed. It was just the intensity level. It was more of a mental thing and us being on the same page.”

The Pistons have an opening to extending their winning streak, too, with Dallas on a five-game losing streak. The Mavs are 2-8 since Dirk Nowitzki has been out with a knee sprain.

“We had a terrific game in Toronto,” Villanueva said. “It was an ugly game today, but I’ll take it. Any wins that come our way. And hopefully we can build from something like this.”

It wasn’t all about the bench for the Pistons. Tayshaun Prince had another terrific all-around game, leading the Pistons with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, and Rodney Stuckey scored 13 of his 19 after halftime and put a stranglehold on Evans, who shot 3 of 12 after halftime to finish with 25.

But when Evans got a step on Stuckey and appeared headed for a layup that would have cut Detroit’s lead to two with eight seconds left, Bynum flew in out of nowhere to swat his shot away, eliciting as many oohs and ahhs from his teammates and coaches as from the crowd.

“How about that block?” Kuester whistled, admitting he intended to send Gordon back in for Bynum in the final five minutes but never got around to it because Bynum kept making plays. “I had to ask somebody, ‘Was that Will?’ That was some block. That was very impressive. He had one of those games where he changed the complexion of the game. It was a great win.”

A win that again helped the Pistons dance away from the flame.