Hunted Down

Pistons lead for 3-plus quarters, falter in 4th in loss to T-wolves


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

– Tayshaun Prince, coming off back-to-back 20-point games, started off as cold as Minnesota’s winter air, missing his first five shots, most of them good ones. But then he knocked down his next six, scoring 13 points in the second quarter and coming back with 12 more in the third. Going primarily against Wesley Johnson, No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft three spots ahead of Greg Monroe, Prince scored inside and outside, posting against the shorter Johnson or taking him to the perimeter. Prince made 3 of 5 from the 3-point line, finishing with 29 points on 13 of 23 shooting as the Pistons dropped their third straight game, 93-85, to fall to 3-12.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Knight struggled with his shot in the first half, making only 1 of 9. Yet Knight played all but the final minute of the half for a reason. He was contributing in other areas, the mantra Lawrence Frank preaches to players struggling to put the ball in the basket. Knight pitched in with five rebounds and added five assists in the half – he finished with seven points, five rebounds and six assists – and he as much as anyone was responsible for shackling Minnesota’s perimeter offense for much of the night. Timberwolves guards Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea are especially effective in pick-and-roll situations, but the Pistons managed to push them away from the paint to limit their options. The three combined for 24 points and 10 assists, well off their usual production.

RED FLAG – The Pistons have played from behind in most games and they just don’t have the firepower or experience necessary at this point to consistently make up significant ground. But they played from ahead for more than three quarters at Minnesota, leading by 16 midway through the second quarter and, after seeing that lead cut to six, by 13 in the third quarter. Chalk it up to growing pains, but this one will sting a little more. After holding Minnesota to under 30 percent shooting for the first half, the Pistons were dented for 57 second-half points and allowed the T-wolves to make better than half their shots during the fourth-quarter run that saw the Pistons get overtaken.

MINNEAPOLIS – Here’s the kind of thing that only happens to 3-12 teams: Anthony Tolliver, as comfortable at the 3-point line so far this season as iguanas in the single-digits temperatures the Pistons awoke to here Wednesday morning, knocked down 3 of 5 – all of them at critical points – to keep the Pistons from a win on a night they dominated for three-plus quarters.

Tolliver has a history of success from the arc, but he’d been in a deep freeze so far this season. He came into the game shooting .267 from arc, making 8 of 30 for the season. Of course. That’s the way it goes when wins come so grudgingly for a struggling team.

“He’s made ’em before,” Lawrence Frank said, with a look that said “it figures” he’d break out against the Pistons, then painfully recalled each of Tolliver’s darts to the heart. “One he got off of a turnover, the second he got off a pull-in on a pick and roll where we went to help and had to recover; the third, again, was off penetration on a kickout. He’s been a good 3-point shooter. That’s why when they play him with Derrick Williams, they park him at the 3-point line.”

So it’s not like Tolliver wasn’t in the scouting report. But against a talented Timberwolves team – yup, the Timberwolves have seven former lottery picks on the roster, including franchise mainstays Kevin Love and rookie Ricky Rubio – you have to concede something.

The Pistons didn’t give up much early. They had a 16-point lead late in the first half when two Tolliver 3-pointers were the main weapons Minnesota used to scratch its way back into the game, lopping 10 points off its deficit by halftime. When the Pistons pushed it back to 13 early in the second half, Minnesota got close enough so that Tolliver’s next triple – with 6:31 left – gave them the lead at 79-78. The Pistons never played with the lead after that.

It wasn’t inevitable, of course, that the Pistons would lose once they fell behind. But those last six minutes – what Frank calls the NBA’s “moment of truth” – have inevitably proven challenging for the Pistons so far.

“Same story,” Greg Monroe said. “We have to find a way to pull it out down the stretch. That’s it. We can’t keep playing well for 42 minutes and then the last six minutes we give the game away. As a team, we have to get better at finishing the game.”

The biggest difference from first half to second, when the Timberwolves went from scoring 36 and shooting 29 percent to scoring 57 and shooting 57 percent? The job Minnesota’s three guards – Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea – did after halftime breaking down Detroit’s defense. They were 1 of 15 with four assists at halftime and 5 of 9 with six assists in the second half, shooting nine of their 11 foul shots after halftime.

“They got into the paint a lot more and got too many easy buckets,” Monroe said. “They got to the foul line a lot more in the second half (18 of 25). When that happens and you’re at home, the momentum shifts. You’re going to make a run. We have to do the same things as any other game – we have to withstand those runs. We have to be the ones to be the aggressor coming down the stretch.”

“We just, unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain it,” Frank said of the first-half noose the Pistons put around Minnesota’s playmakers. “They’re very, very good pick-and-roll players. We knew that coming in. We just had breakdowns, not just on the ball but off the ball as well. They put their heads down many times off pick and rolls and got into our paint, forced help and make kickouts or got to the line.”

Tayshaun Prince, coming off consecutive 20-point games after bumping along with a single-digits scoring average through the first 13 games, did everything he could to give the Pistons their second road win. After he went scoreless and missed all five of his shots through the first quarter, Prince sizzled in the middle two quarters, scoring 13 and 12 points, and it was largely on Prince’s back that the Pistons built that big first-half cushion. He finished with 29.

Monroe, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, might have been the necessary sidekick to go with Prince’s big night, but foul trouble took him out of what appeared a great early rhythm. Monroe had five points and three rebounds, but two quick fouls sent him to the bench before three minutes were up.

“It’s very frustrating,” Monroe said. “I felt like I did have a good rhythm. Especially the fouls that were called – beginning of the game, you get fouls like that, it hurts. I have to do a better job of concentrating on stayi8ng out of foul trouble early in games.”

Ben Gordon added 18 and Rodney Stuckey 10 off the bench, where Minnesota outscored the Pistons 46-16, 29 of those Timberwolves bench points coming after halftime.

“Especially when you’re playing with the lead, you’ve got to make sure you’re defending,” Frank said. “A team is going to press when they’re done. We weren’t able to put enough defensive pressure on to keep them out of the paint and then it’s anybody’s ballgame.”