Among the Pistons who didn’t play were Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace – which means that the Pistons who played Saturday were as different from the predecessors who hadn’t defeated Utah since March 2005 as the Ty Corbin-coached Jazz were from the Sloan-Williams teams that ran roughshod over them all those seasons.
“I think it was a look into the future,” said Will Bynum, who contributed 11 points and eight assists – seven and three in the fourth quarter when the Pistons fell seven down, then went on a 12-0 run. “Better yet, maybe the future is now.”
Kuester started Austin Daye, Greg Monroe and Chris Wilcox up front with Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt. Daye scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and Gordon nine of his 17.
Gordon, Daye and Charlie Villanueva combined to make 10 of 12 3-point shots and rookie Greg Monroe racked up his fourth straight double-double since returning from the All-Star break, going for 12 points and 16 boards, and Rodney Stuckey quietly had a monster night: 28 points, eight assists, five boards and only one turnover. Even DaJuan Summers contributed seven points, five of them in the fourth quarter when Kuester entrusted him with the first nine-plus minutes.
“There was a cohesiveness we haven’t had, an energy we haven’t had on a consistent basis,” Kuester said. “I take my hat off to these guys. They were into the game, played hard. It’s amazing. Sometimes you’re not going to execute the right way, but when you play with energy and intelligence, good things will happen.”
Daye apologized to Kuester before the game, he said, for showing up late for Friday morning’s shootaround in Philadelphia, becoming one of the seven players who did not play after either not going to shootaround or getting there as it was ending.
“I apologized to Coach,” said Daye, who flatly denied intentionally skipping shootaround, citing a miscommunication after a time change but acknowledging full responsibility. “He knows where I come from. … It’s inexcusable for a player to be late for a miscommunication. I got benched and I understood why. I didn’t hold a grudge. I told him that was the right decision and he stepped up and started me today and I proved his point to where I can play well when he puts me out there.”
He, Chris Wilcox and Stuckey returned. But Prince (back), Hamilton (groin) and Tracy McGrady (headache) all sat out, as did Wallace, who will be away from the team for several days after the Saturday death of his 58-year-old brother, the Rev. James McBride.
Whether it was the shorter bench that clarified roles, a team chastened by Friday’s backlash or the youthful mix of players given rare extended opportunities, it all coalesced for the Pistons on a night that electrified The Palace as it hasn’t often been the past two seasons.
“It was fun,” Bynum said. “I thought we played with a whole lot more energy. The roles were much simpler today and everybody kind of knew what to do once they got out there, what to expect.”
When Utah opened its biggest lead at seven points with 8:26 to go, Jason Maxiell helped turn the game far more dramatically than his four points and four rebounds suggest. He grabbed two offensive boards on a possession that resulted in a Ben Gordon triple to begin a 12-0 Pistons run in which he assisted on Daye’s triple to put the Pistons ahead 96-95 and knifed in front of Al Jefferson for a steal he converted into a layup.
There was one streak longer than the Utah spell that also ended with Saturday’s win. It had been nine years – April 8, 2002, to be exact – since the Pistons last won a game that didn’t involve at least one of Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace or Tayshaun Prince.
“Those guys are a big part of our team,” Monroe said. “They’ve been a part of this franchise for a long time. Getting a win without them means a lot, but I’d still rather they be playing and helping us out.”
The Pistons might not be quite ready to close the book on their era, of course, but at least the look ahead Saturday’s win provided them made it seem like a future rippling with possibility.