Hot and Cold

Pistons sizzle in 1st half, fizzle in 2nd in loss to T-wolves

TEAM COLORS

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

– Kevin Love scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, which by itself would be enough to earn him the category. Remarkably, it was the 48th straight double-double for Minnesota’s third-year forward, who made his All-Star debut last month. That puts him just three off of Moses Malone’s NBA record streak. Love is also on track to average better than 20 points and 15 rebounds a game, which would also put him in the company of Malone. He was the last NBA player to do so, 28 years ago. Only Truck Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have also averaged 20 and 15 since 1975.

BLUE COLLAR – The Timberwolves probably wish they had the 2009 draft to do over again, when they took point guards Ricky Rubio at No. 5 and Jonny Flynn one pick later. Rubio has yet to suit up for them – they hope to lure him from Spain in time for next season – and Flynn has had a disappointing and injury-plagued second season. But he provided a spark off of Minnesota’s bench in their 11-point win over the Pistons, dishing out a career-high 14 assists in 30 minutes. Special mention here to T-wolves rookie Lazar Hayward, who scored 16 points in 22 bench minutes. A surprise late first-rounder last June, Hayward was an undersized center at Marquette who didn’t seem to have a position in the NBA, but he knocked down 5 of 7 shots and got the line six times.

RED FLAG – The Pistons had 20 assists at halftime, just 10 off their season-high for the season in a full game, and had scored 61 points – and still they trailed. That tells you a little about their defensive inadequacies against a 14-47 team. And when they tailed off offensively after halftime, shooting only 33 percent, the roof fell in on them. Hasty shots led to frequent transition chances for Minnesota. The Pistons finished with 29 assists.

The Pistons’ maddening inconsistencies – not from night to night, but from quarter to quarter – cost them another game, this time to a team with an even longer litany of woes. After putting up 61 points in a dazzling first half offensively – and still somehow trailing by two points – the Pistons sputtered to a 44-point second half against the NBA’s worst defensive team.

The 105 points they scored still should have been enough to win, as John Kuester pointed out first in his postgame comments. But that misses the point with these Pistons. Their inconsistencies go across the board. The only constant is that they too often look back at something – a cold-shooting quarter, or a spell of bad defense, or breakdowns that enable two sloppy minutes to wipe out 10 precise ones – and shift their focus to remedying a new evil, only to have a different malady undermine them the next time out.

After Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota – which came to The Palace with a 14-47 record – the focus was defensive mind-set.

“We’ve got to make more of a commitment every day to change the culture of our thinking defensively,” Kuester said. “Just making sure we defend people. We’ve got to do a better job. We gave up (52.6 percent). We’ve got to make sure that level of commitment that we talk about every day has got to translate from practices to shootarounds to game situations.”

Neither team played much defense in the first half, which saw the Pistons spurt to an early seven-point lead that got wiped out by a horrific first two minutes of the second quarter when Minnesota scored 10 points in 99 seconds. The Pistons got lulled into a run-and-gun game in which the shot clock rarely ticked below double digits, which was fine when they were playing at a high level on their end.

They got anything they wanted in the first half, but that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Minnesota gives up 107.4 points a game, last in the NBA. The aberration was Minnesota’s second-half defense – but, more probably, it was the Pistons’ second-half offense. After shooting 53 percent in the first half, the Pistons plunged to 33 percent in the second, and shot selection played a big role in the dropoff – and also gave Minnesota, which finished with 19 fast-break points, plenty of chances to run.

“When we don’t score, we struggle defensively,” Kuester said. “And that’s where we’ve got to change the culture of what we’re thinking.”

“That’s how you win games – you’ve got to play hard on defense every play,” said rookie Greg Monroe, who posted his fifth double-double in six games since the All-Star break with 18 points, 11 boards and four steals. “You’re not going to stop a team on every play, but you’ve got to make sure that effort is there on every defensive possession.”

No matter who the opponent, though, no matter the game’s tempo, the Pistons have had massive problems in second halves. In fact, they rank last in the NBA in second-half scoring differential. They came into the game at minus 4.2 – even the woebegone Cleveland Cavs are better at minus 3.6 – and that only got worse with the nine-point advantage Minnesota posted in the 116-105 win.

But the minus 4.2 is the symptom, and the difficulty in treating the symptom is that it’s been born of many causes. That’s how they’ve gotten to 22-41 with 19 games left.