Pistons Win 2nd Straight

Defense puts clamps on Orlando in 89-78 win

TEAM COLORS

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

– Ben Gordon, who no longer has to split time with Rip Hamilton at shooting guard or look over his shoulder after every missed shot, is quietly off to a strong start this season while attention has been focused on Brandon Knight’s rookie season, Jonas Jerebko’s return and Greg Monroe’s development. Gordon kept the Pistons close in the first half, scoring 17 points, and he played a measured second half, hitting big shots but also playing under control and finding open teammates He hit a highly contest triple with the shot clock about to go off in the third quarter that gave the Pistons a six-point lead, fed Greg Monroe for a dunk and a seven-point lead with a little more than five minutes to go and finished with a superb line: 26 points on 8 of 15 shooting in an 89-78 win over Orlando, giving the Pistons back-to-back wins after opening the season 0-3 as they held Orlando to just 32 second-half points and took another step in the process of absorbing Lawrence Frank’s defense-first mantra.

BLUE COLLAR – Jason Maxiell had a rough start to the season, but he’s put together two solid performances. Against Orlando, the Pistons had to go to him early due to early foul trouble for Greg Monroe. Maxiell played through foul trouble of his own, picking up four in just six first-half minutes, but he gave the Pistons seven points in the first half and made several good defensive plays in the third quarter, including a terrific block from behind as Dwight Howard rose to dunk and later a steal to prevent another layup attempt. Maxiell hasn’t put up big rebounding numbers and didn’t again, finishing with nine points and two rebounds. But he was very effective at keeping Howard from cleaning up offensive rebounds, allowing teammates opportunities for defensive boards by keeping Howard pinned.

RED FLAG – Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye are two uniquely gifted scorers whose size and ability to knock down shots from beyond the 3-point line should be big weapons. But neither appears a part of the rotation at the moment. Villanueva only entered the game with 37 seconds left in the first half after foul trouble – Jason Maxiell had four and Jonas Jerebko three – forced Frank’s hand. Daye came on only for the last possession of the half with the shot clock off to spread the floor for a trip that concluded with a Ben Gordon made jumper. Frank, understandably, won’t talk about the reasons why a player isn’t playing. But he’s repeatedly said that performance – including practice performance – will matter most.

Lawrence Frank figured he would have to concede one thing or the other to Orlando. Either Dwight Howard was going to wreak havoc against single coverage in the paint or the Magic’s cadre of 3-point shooters would have free reign on the perimeter.

A week ago, the Pistons might have gotten burned at both ends. But Frank’s “work in progress” appears ahead of projections – and way ahead of where anyone might have imagined after the Pistons started the season 0-3, were getting pounded on the boards and giving up far too many easy baskets inside.

The 89-78 win over Orlando on Monday, their second straight, was built on the powerful shoulders of their two undersized reserve big men, Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell, who were instrumental in the Pistons outrebounding Orlando by 11, shooting 12 more free throws than the Magic and limiting one of the league’s perennial 3-point threats to 8 of 22 from the arc.

Forget what the stats say about Wallace (zero points, five boards, a block and five steals) and Maxiell (nine points, two boards, a block and a steal). It was their carriage that turned the game, Frank believed.

“To me, what changed the game was Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace,” Frank said. “They brought a ruggedness to us, a toughness, a physical inside presence. Those guys – their intensity was great. I really feel between Jason Maxiell and Ben, those guys were really instrumental tonight.”

Give the schedule an assist – Orlando hosted Toronto on Sunday night, while the Pistons were off and at home – but make no mistake: Frank’s long practices and refusal to let minor transgressions slide are producing results. The Pistons not only held Orlando to 44.4 percent shooting but limited the Magic to 63 attempts and held them to 19 or fewer points in three quarters – and to just 32 second-half points.

“We really like the fact our guys responded in the third quarter and stayed with it and got tougher in the moment of truth,” Frank said. “It was a seven-point game around that six-minute mark and it can go either way. Our guys got past hard tonight.”

Ben Gordon’s early-season roll continued, Gordon scoring a season-best 26 points on only 15 shots. He added six assists and a handful of times made plays, either baskets or set-ups, on the increasingly infrequent situations when the shot clock was dwindling with few options.

“I think I’ve got a lot more freedom this year,” Gordon said. “My minutes are up. That’s the major reason, but also the system and just coach Frank’s attention to detail and his emphasis on execution. I could see early it was going to be good for me. We’re only a few games in. I think this is going to continue to get better and better and I’m looking forward to it.”

Gordon made 8 of 9 fouls shots and Rodney Stuckey, though he made only 2 of 8 shots, was 10 of 13 at the line, especially aggressive early in the second half when the Pistons seized control by outscoring the Magic 24-17 and taking the lead for good at 57-55 midway through the quarter on two Gordon free throws.

Orlando shot just 11 of 33 after halftime, took only seven free throws, committed nine turnovers and was outrebounded 21-17 – clear signs that the Pistons, behind Wallace and Maxiell on a night Greg Monroe got tagged with two quick fouls, were the aggressors.

“We were trying to be physical – that’s our game,” Maxiell said. “When we came out in the second half, me and (Wallace), that’s what we had to do – be physical, no matter what.”

“We knew it was going to be a transition,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a new coach, got a new system. Guys are trying to pick up the system. It takes a little time. We do have a little time on our side right now. I don’t think anybody expected us to be world beaters, but we do expect to come out and compete every night.”

They’ll try to make it three straight against Eastern co-favorite Chicago, 4-1 on a season-opening road trip to the West Coast, on Wednesday at The Palace, a game that will mark the return of Rip Hamilton, though Hamilton missed Chicago’s last game with a groin injury and is day to day.

“That’s going to be weird,” said Gordon, who until joining the Pistons two years ago battled Hamilton as a member of the Bulls. “I just kind of got used to being on the other side and playing the Bulls. But now to see Rip over there, it’s going to be different. But I’m looking forward to it.”