Wild, Wild Win

Pistons ‘lie to legs’ in comeback win over Suns

TEAM COLORS

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

– As it was 24 hours earlier in a sluggish loss to New Jersey, the Pistons were searching desperately for somebody to light the fuse. Will Bynum to the rescue. Bynum gave the Pistons 12 points and four rebounds and two big steals in the fourth quarter – when he picked Steve Nash’s pocket and went the length of the court for a layup to cut the Pistons’ deficit to six with just under five minutes left, it suddenly occurred to everyone, the crowd and the Suns included, that the Pistons might actually win. A big 18-foot jump shot with 1:40 left brought the Pistons within a point. His two free throws with three seconds left put the Pistons ahead by four – just enough of a cushion to withstand Channing Frye’s triple at the buzzer.

BLUE COLLAR – Ben Wallace probably wasn’t ready to be rushed back, not having taken part in a practice since spraining his left ankle in the Jan. 10 loss at Chicago. But with Charlie Villanueva out after spraining his ankle Friday, he volunteered to go back on the active list and was ushered into the game before the first quarter was over. Wallace had a few rusty moments early, fumbling a pass from Austin Daye, but made some signature Wallace plays, including a memorable block on ex-Piston Grant Hill – the man who cleared the path for Wallace to come to the Pistons in the July 2000 sign and trade. He wound up logging 25 minutes and contributed seven boards, a block and a steal, but it was his defensive activity in disrupting Phoenix pick-and-roll plays that stood out most.

RED FLAG – The Pistons, after struggling to score 74 points in their disappointing Friday night loss at New Jersey, came back with just 75 in Saturday’s amazing comeback win. Assorted injuries and fatigue have taken their toll as the season hits the dog days stage leading up to the All-Star break – the Pistons are showing some pretty clear signs of being a very tired team. But the schedule gives them no breaks. They fly to Orlando Sunday for a Monday game against one of the East’s beasts, return home to face Denver on Wednesday, then fly back to Florida the next day for a Friday date with Miami followed by a Sunday date at New York. Tough week ahead – good thing they came out of Saturday with the win.

John Kuester is a thoroughly honorable man, but even he will advocate for the occasional white lie. The Pistons came into Saturday’s game with Phoenix a clearly fatigued team and played a thoroughly sluggish offensive game for much of the night, but did what Kuester said they must after a similarly sluggish loss Friday at New Jersey: lie to their legs.

Nobody, perhaps, had to do it more than Ben Wallace, rushed back into the rotation ahead of schedule after missing the past six games with a sprained left ankle when Charlie Villanueva couldn’t go after spraining his right ankle at New Jersey.

“Body” – the nickname Wallace is known by in the locker room – “lied to ’em big-time,” Kuester grinned after a grinding 75-74 win that defied all common sense. “Ben Wallace, who had not played, I thought was phenomenal. I kept asking, ‘Are you all right?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m great.’ ”

He was, too, though the stat sheet – zero points, seven boards, a steal and a blocked shot – would barely acknowledge his role in one of the least likely wins The Palace has witnessed in a long while.

The Suns led 61-47 to start the fourth quarter on a night where a 14-point lead seemed like 44. The Pistons had scored 74 points in losing at New Jersey and were on pace to score 64 against the Suns – the NBA’s leakiest defensive team, averaging 108.6 per game allowed – through three quarters.

But Kuester went with Wallace and three other bench players – Will Bynum, Austin Daye and Ben Gordon – for essentially the entire fourth quarter, with Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey as the fifth man in at various times.

It was Bynum’s scoring and the combined defensive intensity of Bynum and Wallace that lit a fuse begging to be lit for two straight night.

“It just felt like we were lacking energy,” said Bynum, who scored all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, in addition to grabbing four rebounds and passing for an assist. “I just tried to go out there and let my effort do the talking and hopefully everybody else would follow. Defensively, I thought we played with more energy. We were aggressive.”

One clear indicator of the Pistons’ lethargy for much of the night was the shot distribution. Prince and Stuckey combined to take 28 of the Pistons’ first 50 shots even though neither one was shooting well, combining to make just eight of those 28. In Prince’s case, especially, he often wound up with little choice but to shoot as the shot clock wound down and he had no option but to launch.

So it was an easy call for Kuester to ride his bench in the fourth quarter. The Pistons needed fresh legs – or fresher legs, at least – and those guys had ’em. Daye, needed to fill in up front with Villanueva’s absence, was the power forward next to Wallace for the entire final quarter. He scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth, including two huge jumpers – a triple to halve Phoenix’s six-point lead with 2:39 left and an 18-footer off a nice feed from Prince with 54 seconds left to give the Pistons their first lead since 23-21 early in the second quarter.

“Will picking up full-court and (Gordon) and myself trying to get some steals and deflections out there – we did a good job of that,” Daye said. “And (Wallace) definitely helped us out a lot. Him being out there getting deflections and making them make tougher shots definitely helped.”

How strange was this game? The Suns held the Pistons to 75 in both meetings this year, 33-plus under their average. Phoenix, coming in with a five-game win streak, scored 41 points less than it’s averaged over those five games. And it was the first time in Suns franchise history it lost a game when holding the opponent under 80; the Suns are now 62-1 in such games.

With the New Jersey loss still fresh and a daunting week ahead – including two trips to Florida to face the Magic and Heat, another trip to New York and a home game with Denver sandwiched in the middle of it all – it was a most welcome win, circumstances aside.

“It was nice,” Kuester said. “It was great for the players. You could tell by the enthusiasm of the bench that they were into the game. It was a good win.”