Thunderstruck

As the Spurs did, OKC sizzles in posting 10-point win over Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons came in knowing they’d be in trouble if they allowed Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant (28) and Russell Westbrook (22) to combine for 50 points, their norm. They managed to hold both under their averages, though Durant scored 24 and knocked down all 11 of his free throws while Westbrook added 13. But James Harden came off the bench to hurt the Pistons with 22 points, making 4 of 6 3-point shots. Particularly big were Harden’s consecutive triples to negate back-to-back 3-pointers from Rodney Stuckey late in the third quarter with the Pistons making a push.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey put together one of the best four-game stretches of any Piston this season, averaging 21 points and eight assists, before going to the bench to start this three-game road trip. He struggled to make the adjustment in opener at San Antonio, but played a strong game against Oklahoma City. In 32 minutes, he scored 16 points while taking just eight shots, making both of his 3-point tries, and dished out six assists.

RED FLAG – For the second straight game to start a three-game road trip, the Pistons didn’t give themselves a chance to win because of the way they defended – or didn’t defend. Oklahoma City cashed in on open 3-pointets and got inside for to many easy baskets, as well, en route to shooting 50 percent overall and 50 percent from the 3-point line. The Thunder hurt the Pistons equally badly inside, scoring 42 points in the paint.

Oklahoma City didn’t do anything quite so dramatic as San Antonio did two nights earlier against the Pistons, when the Spurs essentially won the game by sinking their first 14 shots. But the Thunder were nearly as deadly over 48 minutes, which begs the question: Are the Pistons playing defense that poorly or running into teams enjoying phenomenal shooting nights?

“It’s probably both,” said Rodney Stuckey, one of many Pistons who played well offensively on a night the opposition shot better than 50 percent all night before settling in right at the break-even mark. “The defense has been lacking all year.”

Down 11 at the end of three quarters but still within hailing distance of the Thunder, the Pistons quickly fell behind by 18 when James Harden dropped in his fourth 3-pointer – in five tries. The Thunder were 8 of 13 from the arc at that time and finished at exactly 50 percent both behind and in front of the 3-point arcj on the heels of San Antonio’s 64.3 percent shooting to start a three-game trip against some of the West’s best.

They get the go-go Denver Nuggets on a back to back Saturday, another Western Conference power fighting for home-court advantage and playing at a faster tempo without Carmelo Anthony.

“We know Denver is an up-and-down team, so we’re going to have to get back and stay with ’em,” Stuckey said, “because they’re going to be running.”

The Thunder gave them a taste of it in the second quarter, when they erased a seven-point Pistons lead by closing the second quarter on a 25-13 run. The torrid shooting, whether it was abetted by subpar defense or not, meant the Pistons had no margin for error on a night they were hardly error-free. The best in the league over the course of the season (12.7 turnovers) at taking care of the basketball, the Pistons had nine turnovers at halftime that led to 10 Oklahoma City points.

“We didn’t handle their pressure well during that period,” John Kuester said, “but I thought our guys came back and worked hard in that third and fourth period. We had some stretches where we allowed them to extend the lead and we were playing catch-up the whole time. But I thought our guys competed.”

It’s hard to be successful playing catch-up if you can’t play lock-down defense for minutes at a time. When Stuckey – who played a strong game off the bench with 16 points and six assists in 32 minutes – drained back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter, the Pistons failed to gain any ground because the Thunder were in the midst of hitting triples on three straight possessions.

Two of them came off of Harden’s hand.

“Harden is one of those assassins who just doesn’t need much of a chance to knock it down,” Kuester said. “He made some big shots for them – long shots, too.”

“They were hitting shots,” Stuckey said. “James Harden came in and played a very good game. (Kevin) Durant does his usual, (Russell) Westbrook does his usual – they played a very good game and got stops at the end.”

Rip Hamilton had his second straight 20-point game off the bench, rookie Greg Monroe racked up another strong game with 12 points and 10 boards to go with a career-high six assists and the Pistons played with tremendous offensive efficiency, as well. They scored 40 points in the paint and shot 48.7 percent.

But the Thunder were a little better across the board: 42 points in the paint, a nine-point edge from the 3-point arc, and that magical 50 percent shooting figure that makes wins most improbable for the opposition.

“Good effort,” Stuckey said. “Just wasn’t enough.”