Infamy Averted

Pistons extend Cleveland’s anguish, extend losing streak to 26

TEAM COLORS

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

– The game had the feel of one that would add up to trouble for the Pistons when their starters got them off to a sluggish start. Cleveland led 14-12 late in the first quarter when John Kuester began sprinkling bench players into the mix. And they turned the game immediately. By halftime, the Pistons had gotten 35 points out of their bench, 17 from Rodney Stuckey. They wound up with a whopping 61-17 bench edge as Kuester let entire five-man bench units play large stretches of both the second and fourth quarters. Stuckey finished with 22 and four assists with no turnovers and Will Bynum 17 and with seven assists and one turnover. Charlie Villaneuva had 13 points, Chris Wilcox six points and eight boards and Austin Daye – despite not shooting well – chipped in with five boards and three assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Even though the Pistons never trailed after a closing rush to the first quarter put them up by nine, and despite leading by double digits for most of the rest of the way, it got tense briefly after halftime. The Cavs surged to start the third quarter and got within three twice. But Ben Wallace made some huge defensive plays at that point, blocking a shot to spare one possession and coming up with a steal to save another at a time Antawn Jamison was on fire and Cleveland was applying pressure. Big Ben’s defensive stand enabled the Pistons to gradually build their lead back to 11 by quarter’s end from 12 points at halftime. Wallace finished with eight points, nine boards, two assists, two steals and a block in 22 impact-heavy minutes.

RED FLAG – The Pistons needed practically everything their bench had to offer to beat a reeling team in part because their starters upon whom they rely for scoring struggled for a second straight night. Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon and Tracy McGrady shot 12 of 38 against San Antonio in a game the Pistons had a shot to win with two minutes to go before losing by 11. They came back to shoot 10 of 29 against the Cavs. It’s especially important that they get Gordon going. Prince and McGrady have other ways to contribute with their playmaking and rebounding, but Gordon’s primary attribute is his scoring, particularly his perimeter shooting. He’s 0 for 4 the past two games from the 3-point arc.

It was the ultimate trap game for the Pistons. Sandwiched between home games against star-studded title contenders, a February road trip to a restless, angry, win-starved, lottery-bound opponent buoyed by a recent uptick in play and smelling victory for the first time in almost two months.

The Pistons aren’t going to necessarily press Wednesday’s win at Cleveland in the metaphorical scrapbook of their memory bank, but the bench-fueled win was one they couldn’t afford to return to The Palace without.

Not with a 20-33 record and flickering playoff hopes that might swing on however many wins they can scratch out among the four games in six days they face leading to the All-Star break, starting with Friday’s visit by Miami. And not with the certainty that a loss to a team that had dropped 25 straight games – an NBA record – would forever link them in infamy.

“We talked about it – we didn’t want to be on the other end,” Tracy McGrady said. “It was a very important game for us and we took it very seriously.”

“We actually showed the clip that ESPN put on, talking about how they were going to beat us,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We tried to use that as motivation. We weren’t going to let that happen. We didn’t want to be a trivia question. We just came out tonight and got the victory.”

Stuckey did his part, scoring 17 off the bench in the first half and 22 for the game. That was the story: The Pistons mauled the Cavs whenever the opposing coaches went to their benches. Bench scoring was 35-11 at halftime and ended 61-17.

After a sluggish start, it was the bench that turned the game. The longer the Pistons had allowed Cleveland to hang around, the greater the danger they would have been the ones tied to the Cavs in trivia history. Stuckey entered the game with the score tied at 14 and three minutes left in the first quarter. By the time the quarter ended, Stuckey’s five points had sparked a 9-2 close to the quarter and the Pistons would never trail.

“I thought we played extremely well,” said another who did his part, Will Bynum, finishing with 17 points, seven assists and one turnover in 26 minutes. “We shared the basketball, got the ball moving, except for the third quarter. We got a little stagnant, but we bounced back. The second group did a great job of pushing the game back up and closing the game out.”

Kuester let intact second units play big chunks of both the second and fourth quarters and all contributed. Charlie Villaneuva scored 10 in the second quarter and finished with 13, knocking down 3 of 5 from the arc. Austin Daye scored only three points, but contributed with five boards and three assists. And Chris Wilcox had six points and eight boards.

“Rodney Stuckey came in and gave us a huge lift,” John Kuester said. “They’re energy guys and we need their energy. They did a great job. We had to step it up and a lot of our guys stepped up.”

Perhaps the most telling statistic of the bench’s impact was their 16 assists against only two turnovers.

“We played together as a team,” McGrady said. “The unselfish basketball that we played tonight is what makes us a really good team. Rodney played well. Charlie had a big (second) quarter for us and the guy that’s really been playing well is Will. Will has been giving us great energy, providing that spark for us off the bench. If we continue to have everybody playing well like that, we’ll give ourselves a chance, night in and night out.”

Landing between a game with San Antonio, sporting the league’s best record, just 24 hours earlier, and Friday’s visit from Miami, the NBA’s most hyped team, this was a scheduling nightmare and the Pistons knew it. Thanks to their bench, the pressure of avoiding certain infamy didn’t weigh them down. Now if they can scratch out a few home wins heading to the All-Star break, the home stretch gets that much more interesting.