Motown Momentum

Pistons close season’s first half by dumping Dallas for 3rd straight win

TEAM COLORS

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

– Much as Joe Dumars envisioned when he put this roster together, different players carried the offense for brief stretches throughout the game. The Pistons as a team shot a season-best 57.5 percent and all five starters made better than half their shots with Tayshaun Prince, Chris Wilcox, Rodney Stuckey and Tracy McGrady especially efficient, making 23 of 32. Charlie Villanueva came off the bench smoking in the second half, scoring 12 points on 5 of 7.

BLUE COLLAR – Reports surfaced out of Dallas over the weekend that the Mavs have targeted Tayshaun Prince, among a handful of NBA players, as a possible fill-in for Caron Butler, injured and out for the year. While there is no reason to believe anything is imminent on that front, Prince certainly gave the Mavs an eyeful with a sublime all-around game. He shot 9 of 12 and finished with 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot. He should have had two blocked shots. He made a spectacular block on 7-footer Brendan Haywood at the rim but was erroneously called for a foul on the play that replays clearly showed wasn’t earned.

RED FLAG – On a day when it was clear that Dirk Nowitzki was the only Dallas player capable of hurting the Pistons – Nowitzki scored 32, but he had 26 of Dallas’ 62 through three quarters – the Pistons left him open too often when they were executing their defensive rotations. Nowitzki’s one of the dozen or so NBA players who makes teams junk conventional defensive philosophy. The Pistons might have adhered to the rotations a little too stubbornly and probably were a little fortunate that Nowitzki, playing his first full game since sitting out with a knee strain, might not have had his customary endurance. He wound up hitting 10 of 17, 4 of 7 from the 3-point line, in 31 minutes.

The first half of the season didn’t come close to fulfilling expectations, but at least it ended with a flourish. The Pistons hammered Dallas, nearly at full strength with Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup, and won a third straight game for the first time this season.

It gives the Pistons four wins in six games over a stretch that John Kuester told his team would be their opportunity to make a move in the Eastern Conference 10 days ago. Since changing the starting lineup and tinkering with the rotation, the Pistons have gone 3-1. And since losing the first game with the new lineup, against Memphis, the Pistons have won three straight third quarters and shaved nearly one point off of their average third-quarter deficit for the season, which at 4.0 after the Memphis loss had them last in the league.

“Not to jinx us, but we did a great job in the third quarter,” Kuester said. “I was very impressed with how we came out and defended and offensively shared the ball. We were attacking, getting good post-ups, guys finding the right man open, and even that second group came in and did a great job of distributing the basketball.”

It was the blueprint for how the Pistons can turn the season around in the second half – holding their own defensively and allowing their many talented scorers the chance to carry the offense in turn for stretches, finding the hot hand or exploiting matchup advantages.

At various times, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey, Tracy McGrady and Charlie Villanueva wielded a hot hand and, critically, the Pistons allowed them the opportunity to play it out. Five Pistons scored in double figures with Stuckey giving them 20 points on eight shots, Prince 19 on 12 and Villanueva 15 on nine. Rookie Greg Monroe matched his career high with 16 points to go with nine rebounds and four steals, two critical ones in the fourth quarter. One came in the post when he stripped Dirk Nowitzki, the other at mid-court when he picked the pocket of point guard J.J. Barea and streaked in for a dunk to douse a Dallas rally to start the fourth quarter.

“This is an emotional game,” said McGrady, who had his own flurry with six points and two assists in a third quarter that surely ranked among their best offensive quarters of the season. “Guys have to know their roles going into games and that foundation has finally been set – guys knowing their role in the starting group, guys coming off the bench. It’s just clicking right now. It’s something we’ve been searching for for quite some time and I think we finally found it.”

The Pistons scored 34 points in the quarter, stretching a four-point halftime lead to 13, and made 16 of 22 shots with nine assists – four from Prince, two apiece for Stuckey and McGrady – and no turnovers. The 34 points were their high for a third quarter this season and their 73 percent shooting for the quarter largely enabled a season-best 57.5 percent for the game. Pistons starters were especially effective, shooting 30 of 44 for the game with 16 assists and just five turnovers.

Kuester said that beyond the lineup change, the only difference to third quarters of late is that he’s adjusted his halftime routine, taking a less-is-more approach.

“We stopped talking as much,” he said. “That’s all we did. Sometimes you can talk too much.”

The loss was Dallas’ sixth straight, but that’s misleading – the Mavs didn’t have Nowitzki for the first four and he was ejected midway through his return in Saturday’s loss at Memphis.