Fourth-Quarter Fade

Early fourth-quarter Knicks barrage buries Pistons to end tough trip

TEAM COLORS

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

– Ben Gordon grew up a cab ride from Madison Square Garden, played a game here with Mount Vernon High and had many big moments for UConn in Big East games at the Garden. He looked right at home against the Knicks, jacking up rainmaking jumpers that sometimes barely ruffled the nets. Gordon scored 16 points in the third quarter and finished with 35, knocking down 7 of 11 from the arc in 42 minutes.

BLUE COLLAR – Another Piston who had no small measure of success at Madison Square Garden long before arriving in the NBA is rookie Greg Monroe. Monroe finished with 15 points and a career-best 17 rebounds, 14 and 16 before the third quarter was out when he had to go to the bench with four fouls. Monroe had eight offensive rebounds and several times converted those boards into points. He also picked up two assists and two more steals.

RED FLAG – Russian rookie Tim Mozgov averages 2.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 10 minutes a game, but with Ronny Turiaf in early foul trouble Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni had to turn to Mozgov, who responded with a career night: 23 points and 14 rebounds, five offensive, in 40 minutes. Adding more salt to the wound, Mozgov hadn’t played in the past 10 Knicks games.

NEW YORK – Danilo Gallinari hit a triple on the first possession of the fourth quarter to break a tie. Charlie Villanueva, seconds later, shot an answering triple that rimmed in and out. No big deal, right? Except on this night, it was. With both offenses on high perc, virtually no opportunity could be squandered.

And with the Knicks on fire early in the fourth quarter, the Pistons squandered a handful too many chances and wound up losing by 18. Gallinari’s triple made it 94-91 with still almost the whole quarter to play, but it fueled a 12-2 Knicks run that included another Gallinari triple two minutes later and give the Knicks their biggest lead of the game to that point.

The Knicks operated with razor-sharp efficiency over the first six minutes of the quarter, scoring 20 points on 11 possessions with just one turnover and one missed shot. The Pistons, meanwhile, got only two Ben Gordon free throws in their first six possessions, committing two turnovers and missing two other shots besides Villanueva’s triple. On another night, such a brief lull in offensive efficiency wouldn’t be fatal.

This time?

“We knew this was a team capable of scoring a lot of points and making runs,” Villanueva said after the 124-106 loss. “This is a team that’s very good in spurts. When they made their run, we couldn’t capitalize. We had the looks – we just didn’t make them.”

It was as much about what led to the fourth quarter as what happened once it began that concerned John Kuester.

“The score is 91-91 at the end of the third and you’re saying, ‘OK, it’s tied,’ ” Kuester said. “But 91 points? C’mon guys. That’s too many points we gave up.

“It was important for us to defend tonight – we knew that, and it seemed like we wanted to make it the OK Corral in regards to a shootout. It’s 91-91 and you’ve got a chance. We’ve got to defend. That was the one thing – we had to pick up a couple of stops in a row and it just seemed like we could never get it and they took advantage of our inability to guard the ball the way I know we’re capable of.”

The loss, coming on the heels of Friday night’s crusher at Miami when two calls – or non-calls – in the final 10 seconds conspired to produce a one-point setback, was a deflating end to a brutal weeklong stretch that began with the high of a road win at Orlando.

It leaves the Pistons with a 17-31 record heading into a February designed for them to make up ground – but now also making it mandatory that they do so. Of their 13 games in February, nine will be at The Palace.

“We’ve got to gain ground quickly,” Villanueva said. “We’ve got a lot of games at home and we have to take advantage of that and see where we’re at.”

The loss came despite scintillating performances by Ben Gordon and Greg Monroe. Gordon was ablaze from the 3-point line, dropping in bombs that seemed to scrape the Garden’s low-hanging ceiling for 35 points, going 7 of 11 from the arc. Monroe scored 15 and posted a career-best 17 rebounds, numbers that might have been more impressive if he hadn’t picked up his fourth foul with 2:03 left in the third quarter and sat for the next six minutes.

“He had a phenomenal game,” Kuester said. “This young man is playing outstanding basketball and we need him to continue to play the way he is.”

The Pistons come out of January feeling much better about their play over the final two-plus weeks, but with a record that doesn’t leave them much wiggle room if a playoff charge is to come. They’re going to need Monroe and many others to keep playing at a high level – and fast. February has to be the month the Pistons make their move.