Bench Bailout

Wilcox, Will the Thrill lead sub-inspired rally as Pistons top Knicks

TEAM COLORS

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

– Chris Wilcox has been in the starting lineup and outside the rotation at various points this season, but lately his role has been backing up the center position. He looked active from the get-go Friday night, giving the Pistons eight points and three boards in the second quarter, yet played only six minutes before heading back to the bench. But John Kuester went to him again with three minutes left in the third quarter with the Knicks amid a 17-0 run left and never took him out. Wilcox finished with 13 points and 12 boards and made two plays to turn the game: a one-handed tip jam to put the Pistons ahead 97-95, followed by a challenge at the rim of Carmelo Anthony on the next possession, rebounding the miss.

BLUE COLLAR – Will Bynum didn’t get off the bench for three quarters, but with the Pistons suffering through a stagnant third quarter that saw the Knicks outscore them 25-15, John Kuester turned to Bynum in a small lineup with Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey to start the fourth. Bynum got the Pistons off and running, penetrating and dishing to an open Charlie Villaneuva for three 3-point baskets in the first four minutes to spark a 13-5 run to tie the game. Bynum finished with five points and five assists and his energy, as much as anything, keyed a defensive effort that saw the Knicks held to 28.6 shooting in the fourth.

RED FLAG – Expanding a two-point halftime lead to eight by continuing to move the ball and exploit New York’s suspect defense, the Pistons suddenly went stagnant in the third quarter. They went nine straight possessions without scoring and their 17-0 run didn’t end until Ben Gordon sank a technical foul free throw awarded for a New York illegal defense. Without a stirring fourth-quarter rally sparked by a bench that would score 54 of Detroit’s 99 points, it would have been another ruinous third quarter that sent the Pistons to another crushing defeat.

On a night of giving, the Pistons drew the line at giving in to a season-long bugaboo: the third-quarter doldrums.

Leading the Knicks by two after a thoroughly entertaining first half light on lockdown defense, they went nine straight possessions without scoring anything more than a lone Ben Gordon free throw – awarded for an illegal defense call on New York – as the Knicks went on a 17-0 run to turn an eight-point deficit into a nine-point lead.

But John Kuester turned to Will Bynum to start the fourth quarter – after Bynum hadn’t moved from his seat on the bench over the first three – and Bynum, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Wilcox and Rodney Stuckey carried the Pistons to a dominant fourth-quarter rally for a 99-95 win on a night the Pistons raised $351,110 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Michigan through their annual Pistons Care Telethon.

Bynum lit the fuse with five assists and spirited defense that harassed the Knicks into 28.6 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. Three of those assists led to Charlie Villanueva 3-point baskets, the last of which capped a 13-5 rally to start the starter and forge an 83-all tie with 8:04 remaining. Villanueva scored 11 of his 14 in the fourth quarter.

Wilcox had five points, eight boards and two assists in the fourth, finishing with a double-double, 13 and 12. And while Stuckey finished with 12 points, his biggest contribution came via the defense he played on Carmelo Anthony went Kuester went small to start the fourth quarter. On a night Anthony – the subject of a season-long quest by the Knicks – shot a miserable 2 of 12 and finished with six points, Stuckey was largely responsible for holding him to 0 for 5 in the fourth quarter.

“Will Bynum and Chris Wilcox did a phenomenal job,” Kuester said. “Our bench had 54 points and did a great job of distributing the basketball and making big shots, timely shots, getting key rebounds. Chris Wilcox was phenomenal around the boards and I thought Will Bynum got us into something positive every time he touched the ball.”

It was just two days ago Kuester, exasperated by a season filled with twists and turns, stressed that players need to be ready to play no matter when called upon. Bynum serves as Exhibit A.

“That’s so important,” Kuester said after the win on a night the telethon funded 7,022 annual memberships for Michigan kids to Boys & Girls Clubs. “We’ve been communicating with our guys, telling them all the time, ‘you’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be ready.’ And our guys responded and did a great job. Will hadn’t played in three quarters and he came in and we needed him – he was phenomenal.”

“That’s my job to be ready, not to complain and pout,” he said. “I try to stay positive and when I’m out there, I try to make them regret not playing me.”

Watching for three quarters, Bynum noticed the stagnation that set in during the third quarter and the way the Knicks were cheating to rotate their defense into the pick and roll – spotting a vulnerability that led him to look for Villanueva for the 3-pointers.

“We needed to make plays, push the tempo and get stops. Most of all, we needed to play defense and get stops and I tried to provide that with my energy and effort out there.

“I saw how they were rotating – they were rotating kind of early on the drops on pick and rolls. So I kind of knew Charlie was going to be open. I was studying it the whole game.”

Still, the Knicks led by two and had the ball with two minutes left when Amare Stoudemire missed a floater near the basket. Wilcox snagged that rebound – the first of five he would get in those final two minutes – but Villanueva. Chauncey Billups missed a triple, setting up another Wilcox board and a possession that ended with Wilcox feeding Stuckey for a layup to tie.

The points that put the Pistons ahead for good came on a spectacular one-handed tip-jam by Wilcox off a Bynum missed layup.

“Wilcox is a finisher,” Bynum said. “I don’t mind giving it to him every time. That’s my job as a point guard. He was big tonight. Chris rebounded the ball well. He defended Amare pretty well and offensive he was making plays.”