Tough-Luck Loss

Daye’s game-winner spins out at the buzzer as Pistons lose by 2

TEAM COLORS

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

– Greg Monroe spent two years in Washington and holds a special place in his heart for Georgetown, so it had to feel good for him to play perhaps his best all-around game in his NBA debut in Washington. Monroe’s 22 points and 14 rebounds gave him his 18th double-double, and he added four steals, four assists and a blocked shot. He also hit his first eight free throws, but missed two with 10 seconds left that could have tied the game. Monroe had 14 points and eight boards by halftime.

BLUE COLLAR – Tracy McGrady was having a solid first half with eight points, three boards and three assists when he came out of the game wincing. When Arnie Kander bundled his right arm up from elbow to thumb, it appeared he was done for the night – maybe for the year. But it was diagnosed as a muscle spasm in a finger and McGrady came back in the second half. He hit a jump shot with a minute left to put the Pistons up two and set up both Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye for triples in the final seconds that might have lifted the Pistons to victory, but both missed. McGrady finished with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.

RED FLAG – The Pistons haven’t had much they could count on as a staple every night, but taking care of the basketball has been their best attribute. They still lead the league in fewest turnovers, averaging 12.9 per game. But they coughed it up 11 times in Tuesday’s first half, the biggest reason they fell 11 points behind in the first quarter and why they led by only two at halftime despite dominating Washington off the glass (27-18). The Pistons finished with 18 turnovers, which Washington converted into 24 points.

Since Flip Saunders took over a Washington team he saw as an Eastern Conference darkhorse contender less than two years ago, the Wizards have dumped Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, won the lottery and turned the franchise over to the fruits of that good fortune, John Wall.

Right about now, the Wizards might be the only one of the six teams that picked ahead of the Pistons last June not rethinking their draft-day decision. Greg Monroe, who fell to the Pistons at No. 7, made his NBA debut in the arena he called home for his two years at Georgetown and didn’t disappoint those who came to the Verizon Center to see him.

Monroe played perhaps his finest all-around game yet, scoring 22 and grabbing 14 rebounds while chipping in with four assists, four steals and a blocked shot. He went to the foul line 10 times and knocked down the first eight of them.

It will be the last two he took, though – misses with 10 seconds left and the Pistons trailing by two – that will haunt him.

“My bad – I’ve got to knock those down,” Monroe said, rolling eyes that reflected the hurt of a 107-105 loss to Washington. “I’ve got to make free throws in the clutch.”

Monroe wasn’t the only young Piston building block to have a solid performance undermined by last-minute misfortunate.

On a night Austin Daye contributed 14 points and six boards in 24 solid minutes and hit a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to cut Washington’s four-point lead to one, he got another chance for virtually the same spot after Wall split a pair of free throws to put the Wizards up two. This time, the ball went halfway down before rattling off the front and back rim and popping out.

“I thought it was good off of my hand,” said Daye, who had the presence of mind, with 1.9 seconds left, to pump fake 7-footer JaVale McGee off his feet before launching the shot. “I was standing there waiting to see it go in. I saw it kind of pop out. I didn’t think I left it short, but it popped out somehow. I don’t know.”

‘You’ve just got to make big plays at the end,” John Kuester said. “Greg has done that and he’s just getting better and better. I’ve very proud of the way he’s competing. Those two young men have continually gotten better. But for us to get to that next level, you have to continually improve.”

Wall, named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for the third consecutive time, left his mark on the game, as well, despite shooting poorly for most of the night. He did the bulk of his damage late, scoring 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter by using his speed to burn the Pistons in transition, never more so than with 15 seconds left when his fast-break dunk off a Tayshaun Prince missed corner triple with the score tied gave the Wizards the lead for good.

Wall was 14 of 16 at the line and added a dozen assists.

“He’s been bringing it every single night,” Monroe said of the likely runner-up to Blake Griffin in Rookie of the Year voting. “He’s fast, athletic. He knows how to get to the hole and he makes tough shots.”

Monroe, who recorded his 18th double-double since Jan. 1, is a virtual lock to join Griffin and Wall on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team. Even on a night that ended with failures from two of the keys to their future, Monroe continues to prove his mettle to them all.

“It’s not his fault,” Daye said. “The game shouldn’t have gotten to that point. We should have opened it up at one point. We had some defensive lapses at the end of the game. Without him, we wouldn’t have been that close in the first place. You can’t blame Greg for missing those two free throws.”

Rodney Stuckey, though healthy, didn’t play for the second straight game, and Charlie Villanueva sat out with a sore back. That made for some unusual lineup combinations, and Kuester’s bench got shorter in the second half when Ben Gordon didn’t play after bruising a knee in the first half.

“Our guys played with a lot of energy,” Kuester said. “The big concern was transition defense and that ended up biting us in the butt. We made some plays down at the end I thought would give us the edge. We couldn’t finish it off.”