Twilight Zone

Defensive switch pays off as Stuckey nets double-double in return

TEAM COLORS

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

– Brook Lopez hung 25 points on the Pistons in a season-opening loss that set a choppy course for their season and he was back at it in Game 78, dropping in 20 first-half points and adding 17 more in the first 14 minutes of the second half for a career best 37. And he did it while requiring only 17 shots from the field, making 14, to go with 11 free throws in 14 attempts. But that’s when the Pistons switched to a zone defense. Lopez managed only three more shots for the game and went scoreless.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey, after not playing the past two games, came back into the lineup late in the first quarter. With Tracy McGrady getting a night off and Will Bynum straining a knee late in the second quarter, Stuckey went all 24 minutes of the second half and finished with 22 points and 10 assists. He got plenty of help from Greg Monroe, who racked up his 19th double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Rip Hamilton, who shot 8 of 11 and scored 25 points, coming up one assist shy of giving the Pistons three double-double performances.

RED FLAG – Without All-Star Deron Williams, leading rebounder Kris Humprhies or sharp shooter Anthony Morrow, the Nets looked very much like the team that staggered to a 12-win season a year ago when it was hoarding resources for a run at the premier free agents in the Summer of LeBron. Against all of that, the Pistons allowed New Jersey to score 59 first-half points, shooting 57 percent, and if not for Kuester’s timely switch to the zone defense that shackled Brook Lopez, might have suffered an embarrassing loss.

Rodney Stuckey went from never leaving the bench to never getting back to it.

Benched for the past two games by John Kuester, Stuckey returned to the lineup late in Wednesday night’s first quarter. By the time the second half started, he was the only point guard standing. Kuester said he didn’t plan on playing Tracy McGrady after he gave him nearly 30 hard minutes the previous night and Will Bynum came up with a strained right knee just before halftime.

“He said, ‘I’ll go the whole half for you,’ ” Kuester said “He was very engaged during the game, did a great job.”

Stuckey looked a little overeager at times, with three quick turnovers, but he gave the Pistons 22 points and 10 assists in 34 minutes as they overcame a sluggish first half and snapped a four-game losing streak by beating a diminished New Jersey team – minus All-Star Deron Williams, leading rebounder Kris Humphries and sharpshooter Anthony Morrow – 116-109.

“I let my emotions get in the way,” a contrite Stuckey said, referring to last Friday’s loss to Chicago when Stuckey, who had been removed from the game midway through the fourth quarter, refused re-entry two minutes later. “I’m still a young player. I’m passionate about this game, so I just let my emotions get in the way. I got punished and it’s over.”

“Rodney Stuckey is an integral part of this organization and I think it’s important that messages have to be sent,” Kuester said. “This game is very simple. It’s not about one individual. It’s about being a team.”

Asked if he received the message, Stuckey said, “Absolutely. Whenever I’m not out there competing with my teammates, it (stinks). Because I want to be out there fighting, as well. I got punished, but everything is good now and let’s move on.”

Stuckey nearly had two teammates join him with double-doubles. Greg Monroe racked up his 19th with 20 points and 10 boards despite foul trouble and Rip Hamilton came up an assist shy, registering 25 points on 8 of 11 shooting to go with his nine assists.

“He was definitely big in the second half,” Monroe said of Stuckey. “He started getting to the goal, made a few jumpers. He was definitely a big boost for us in the second half.”

But the two double-doubles and one near miss likely wouldn’t have been enough but for a tactical maneuver from Kuester early in the fourth quarter. Brook Lopez tore the Pistons up with 32 points through three quarters, then hit them with another seven – bettering his previous career high of 37 in the process – in the first 2:10 of the fourth quarter.

That’s when Kuester called timeout and switched the Pistons into a zone defense. Lopez’s line for the rest of the game: zero points, 0 for 3 from the field.

“Lopez was such a load,” Kuester said. “He was playing so extremely well that we tried everything on him. We came out of two timeouts telling our guys we were going to double (team) on the dribble, then we changed it and doubled on the catch. And neither time did it happen. Our energy was not there. I made a decision saying, let’s try a zone. It panned out because it did keep them a little stagnant.”

“We were having trouble with Lopez and it worked,” Monroe said. “We were able to make a little run and get a little distance coming down the stretch. I would think switching the defense was the big difference. The guys kind of caught their breath sitting back in the zone a little bit and the defense started starting some offense for us, too.”

The win was Detroit’s 27th of the season, matching last season’s win total. It wasn’t exactly what they were shooting for when the season started, but on a night they got big contributions from a championship-era holdover, a young veteran and a future building block, it reminded everyone why they began the season with bristling optimism.