Coming Up Short

Down to 6 players after morning no-shows, Pistons lose in Philly


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

– If Elton Brand is over the hill, the Pistons would like to buy such real estate. He played 29 minutes and took the entire fourth quarter off, yet Brand still put up monster numbers with 20 points and 17 boards, including seven on the offensive end. It was a Brand offensive rebound and put-back late in the second quarter that so infuriated John Kuester – he felt Brand shoved Jason Maxiell out of the way to corral the loose ball – that he drew consecutive technical fouls and was ejected.

BLUE COLLAR – With only six players under consideration for playing time and nobody else accomplished as a point guard, Will Bynum had to go all 48 minutes at the game’s most demanding position. But Bynum’s first option would be to play 48 minutes every night, and rest assured that he didn’t pace himself at any point in the 110-94 loss. Bynum finished with 29 points, six assists and five rebounds, took an inadvertent elbow in the mouth from Greg Monroe that wobbled him, yet hustled to the final buzzer.

RED FLAG – In a season that’s already contained more drama than the slate of Oscar-nominated movies, the Pistons’ season took a new turn in Game 60. When seven players didn’t show up on time or at all for the morning shootaround, John Kuester went with a six-man rotation. Three Pistons played 43-plus minutes and a team that battled gamely to stay close for three quarters fell prey to rubbery legs in the fourth quarter. Now the Pistons come home to play 24 hours later against the team that has beaten them 12 straight, Utah.

John Kuester has wrestled all season with an overwhelming number of decisions on lineup combinations and how deep to mine a bench filled with interchangeable parts. None of those challenges presented themselves in the season’s 60th game, perhaps the most bizarre yet in a season already saddled with restlessness.

Seven players either didn’t show up on time or at all for the morning shootaround in Philadelphia and none of them would play in the 110-94 loss to the 76ers on Friday night. Tayshaun Prince (stomach ailment, sore back) and Tracy McGrady (headache) notified team officials before shootaround that they wouldn’t be attending, as did Ben Wallace, excused to deal with a family matter.

Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye arrived at shootaround near its conclusion. Rip Hamilton and Chris Wilcox never showed. Pistons vice president Scott Perry said on his pregame radio spot that any discipline would be internally handled, but the immediate impact was Kuester had six players at his disposal.

Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva and little-used DaJuan Summers were the starters, while Jason Maxiell comprised the bench – all of it.

“It’s an internal matter right now,” Kuester said afterward. “The thing we wanted to do is get the guys who had been at the shootaround, for sure, the minutes.” As to who’ll be considered for minutes Saturday night, when the Pistons host Utah at The Palace, Kuester said, “it’s something that we’ll be discussing.”

The Iron Six dug themselves a 13-point hole by early in the second quarter and struggled all night to get back in transition (31 fast-break points) and keep Philadelphia off the offensive glass (13 offensive boards, 10 in the first half, seven by Elton Brand). And yet, somehow, they had the game within single digits past the halfway point of the third quarter and within 11 after three before fatigue and reality descended.

“(Having) only six players wore on us throughout the game,” Monroe said. “I tip my hat to the rest of the players who were playing tonight. Everybody gave as much effort as they could, played hard. But, obviously, the outcome is not the way we wanted it to be.”

By that point, Kuester had long since joined the idled, getting run from the game by picking up consecutive technicals three minutes before halftime protesting a no-call that allowed Philadelphia one of way too many put-backs.

“Jason Maxiell is 290 pounds and Elton Brand just moved him right out and there’s no way I should have been kicked out of that game,” said Kuester, who brushed off any suggestion that he went out of his way to get tossed. “Of all the games I’ve ever been a head coach, this is the one I didn’t want to get kicked out of. Absolutely not. Not at all.”

Sigh. It was that kind of night, with the Pistons losing their third straight since returning from the All-Star break and falling to 21-39 overall, now almost hopelessly out of East playoff contention.

Bynum (29 points, six assists, five boards) went all 48 minutes at point guard, Gordon (16, 5, 4) played 45 and Monroe (16 points, 11 boards, four assists, three steals) logged 43. Summers, who had played in only 14 games and whose season-high 16 minutes came in the season’s first week, played 39 minutes. Villanueva played 36 and cramped up in the fourth quarter and Maxiell played 29 off the bench. Bynum and Gordon joined Summers in establishing season highs in minutes and Monroe equaled his best.

“It was a tough game, but I’m all right,” Bynum said. “I’m a professional basketball player. I’m always ready to do whatever I have to do, play however many minutes I have to play. I didn’t play for two months. You think I was turning down 48 minutes? I ain’t crazy.”

“I thought our guys played hard,” Kuester said. “We cut our numbers down, but these guys gave me everything they had. … I thought they played their hearts out. They played so hard and I was very proud of them.”

They couldn’t have had a less desirable opponent for the conditions, either, as the 76ers are most comfortable playing at a fast tempo that a shorthanded team couldn’t tolerate. With a shortage of ballhandlers – Bynum the only point guard available – the Pistons fed into Philly’s frenetic pace by committing a run of early turnovers.

“Fatigue was definitely a factor down the stretch,” Villanueva said. “Especially Philly. Philly is a transition team. They love to run. At the end of the game, especially that fourth quarter, we just didn’t have the legs to keep up with them.”

With 22 games left in a season that’s worn on them all emotionally, it figures that the Pistons are coming home to host the NBA team that has most bedeviled them. They’ve lost 12 straight to the Jazz. Yup, it’s been that kind of season.