Out with a Win
Just three games into a season they hoped would scrub the stinging memories of last year away, the Pistons said “enough, already.” You could see it with three minutes to go when Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey tore after a loose ball from opposite directions and wound up in a fearsome head-on collision that momentarily staggered both. You could see it with under 50 seconds left when Jonas Jerebko sprinted downcourt after a Pistons turnover gave Indiana an opening to cut further into a six-point lead that had already shrunk from 18. And you could see it with 20 seconds left when Monroe got his hand on an offensive rebound once, then again, and finally tipped it in to ice the 96-88 win over Indiana, which had dominated the Pistons just five nights earlier in the season opener.
“I think everybody had that feeling today,” Monroe said after his 19-point, 11-rebound outing despite being limited to 13 first-half minutes with foul trouble. “We’ve got a hungry bunch of guys in here. The first three games might not have shown it, but those games left a sour taste in our mouth. That’s now how we want to play this year. That’s now what we’re about this year. And tonight just showed, we’re trying to make a difference. We’re trying to win games. That’s the main focus every night.”
“It feels great,” Jerebko said after his first career 20-and-10 game, scoring 20 points to go with 12 rebounds. “A loss here would not have been fun. But now we can celebrate this year new and start off with new memories.”
Jerebko set the tone early, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds in a first quarter that saw the Pistons lead 21-18. Outrebounded by Indiana by 13 in the opener, they turned the tables exactly, finishing with a 49-36 edge. They finished with 25 assists on 39 baskets, shot 47.6 percent and held the Pacers under 40 percent.
“Defense led to offense,” Lawrence Frank said after his first win as Pistons. “Going into the game, it was all about owning the paint, owning the middle and limiting them to one shot. The other problem in the early part of the season has been the third quarter. We won the third quarter. There were some steps taken. We just have to continue to work at it.”
There were reasons for optimism under virtually every rock for the Pistons. Tayshaun Prince, still recovering from a minor knee injury, scored 12 points but knocked down a critical 3-pointer when Indiana cut the lead to seven with four minutes left and was primarily responsible for limiting high-scoring Danny Granger to 11 points on 4 of 15 shooting. Rodney Stuckey, still fighting off the effects of having just 10 days of practices before the season opener, had his best game with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Ben Gordon was solid again with 16 points. Rookie Brandon Knight contributed six assists. Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell were both solid off the bench. And Damien Wilkins, thrown into the fray in the second half, gave Frank more than nine minutes of error-free play to provide both Prince and Jerebko needed blows.
The win couldn’t have been more welcome, given that after starting the season 0-3 the Pistons are staring down the barrel of a loaded schedule ahead. Their next six games aren’t merely against 2011 playoff teams, but mostly against teams that finished with home-court advantage: Orlando and Chicago at The Palace, a trip to Philadelphia, back home to host the New York, on the road to Chicago and back home against the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
“It feels good,” Monroe said. “It always feels good to get the first one under your belt. I thought we played well tonight. I think we did a good job of giving a good effort the whole game. You just get tired of some things. You want to get in that win column real bad. At some point, we’ve all got to take accountability personally and as a team we’ve got to find a way to come together and get a win.”
In the loss at Indiana, all three of Indiana’s big men – starters Roy Hibbert and David West and backup Tyler Hansbrough – put up double-doubles. Their numbers were way down in the rematch, combining for 35 points and only 15 rebounds.
“We didn’t come out with the energy we needed,” Hansbrough said. “Jerebko got off to a good start. He got hot and he was tough for us. Monroe did his thing.”
“Hats off to Detroit,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Jerebko and Monroe outplayed our frontcourt.”
“Jonas was great,” Frank said. “When you look at Jonas, especially in the first half, they were all open, rhythm shots. That goes back to ball movement. When the ball pops, it finds the open man as opposed to forcing the issue and taking contested shots. Jonas, his hustle and energy, getting back in the play, stealing the ball, that was a big play to secure the win.”
A most welcome win. The Pistons might not recall 2011 with great fondness, but it sure ended on a high note.