Going Down Fighting
Over time, wrenching loss might be recalled for passing of torch
Monroe brought them back from a 16-point deficit with a career night – 27 points and 12 boards – and Daye put them over the top, coming off the bench to knock down exactly the type of big shot he’s beginning to make a habit. This one came with 11 seconds left and gave the Pistons a 101-100 lead – their first lead since late in the first quarter.
It all will be buried in the morning-after recounting under the headline-grabbing dunk of Brandon Rush, fed cannily by Danny Granger after sucking Pistons defenders to him, for the game-winner with 5.4 seconds left. The loss leaves the Pistons eight games behind Indiana in the loss column with only 23 games remaining, the Pacers currently sitting in the No. 8 playoff spot in the East.
Monroe and Daye, though, took big steps in their progression to players around whom Joe Dumars will be looking to place complementary pieces.
Monroe’s 27 points were a career high, in large measure because his 17 shot attempts also were a career high. He missed a handful of shots in the first half that he normally makes, too, or his scoring total could have risen well beyond 30.
Getting Monroe more touches now becomes an option for John Kuester and his staff, who to this point have been content to let him find his own opportunities by cleaning the offensive glass or finding holes in the defense and making himself available for entry passes. But he’s so efficient scoring around the basket with either hand, using his body and the rim to protect the ball from shot-blockers, building evidence by the week that the Pistons might have found the low-post scorer every NBA team seeks.
“Greg Monroe,” John Kuester said after the rookie’s ninth double-double, “was phenomenal.”
Monroe’s postgame reaction surely will do nearly as much to underscore how strongly Joe Dumars and his staff believes in his future as his 27 and 12 did.
“Early in the game, I was off,” he said. “I put some of the blame on myself. I missed a lot of easy buckets. (Tracy McGrady) kicked my butt – I kicked my butt. I missed about six or seven easy layups early in the game, open jump shots. We still find a way to stay in the game, but if I make those easy buckets, we win the game.”
“Greg could have had 40 points tonight,” McGrady said. “I got on his butt in the first half. It looked like he was out of sync. It looked like he was still in LA – All-Star weekend. But the young fella fought back in the second half, played extremely well. Rebounding, being in the right spots, finding him on the offensive end – he was scoring. He did a great job using his body. Greg did a great job of getting the ball up and making baskets for us.”
As for Daye, this big shot was a little different than the others he’s knocked down this year – the turnaround triple from the corner to force overtime in a December win over Philadelphia, or the big triples he hit to win a January game at Orlando – in that he spent most of the night on the bench, coming in cold on the timeout before
“It was a pick and roll for me and we knew they were going to trap me,” McGrady said. “Initially, it was going to leave Austin open on the perimeter. But they did a great job getting back to Austin. He just made a great play, a pretty athletic play, and made a basket.”
Indeed, Daye had no great option when Indiana correctly anticipated the play and had him blanketed and isolated on the left wing. But he put the ball on the floor against Pacers rookie Paul George, whose best traits are his length and athleticism, to give himself just the room he needed to launch the potential game-winner.
Everything about the play – from putting it on the floor against a rangy defender to having the courage to take a tough shot with a big game on the line – spoke to the unusual self-confidence Daye possesses given his inexperience.
It didn’t add up to a win on a night the Pistons desperately needed one to stoke the flickering embers of their playoff hopes, but it further validated the prospects of a brighter tomorrow.