Misfiring vs. Memphis

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons were down and out and within a whisker of flat-lining at halftime, trailing 49-30. Then Brandon Knight breathed life into them in the third quarter. After falling even further behind, by 23, Knight kick-started a comeback by scoring 12 points in the first nine minutes of the quarter as the Pistons went on a 25-9 run, playing with verve and attacking the paint. Knight shot eight free throws in those nine minutes alone – the most he’d shot in any game was four – and he would wind up shooting 10 foul shots for the game, making all of them. Knight scored 22 points and added four assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Walker Russell Jr. woke up at 4:30 Friday morning in Sioux Falls, S.D., caught a flight to Chicago and another one to Detroit, spent the afternoon getting a crash course in the offense from Pistons coaches and then pulled on the uniform his father once wore for the team he grew up cheering. Lawrence Frank threw him into the game late in the first quarter and Russell played a creditable 20 minutes. He flashed the court vision that made him the D-League’s leading assist man at 10 per game with a few nice first-half passes and crafty ballhandling. He finished with three points, two assists and a rebound

RED FLAG – Turnovers have been a nagging problem for the Pistons over their first 16 games and they were again on Friday night, maybe never more damagingly than early in the fourth quarter. Down eight after cutting 15 points off of Memphis’ third-quarter lead, the Pistons coughed it up five times in the first six minutes of the quarter to allow the Grizzlies to stretch the lead back to 13. It wasn’t just the turnovers, though, it was what the teams managed to do with them. While Memphis scored a whopping 32 points off of Detroit’s 25 turnovers, the Pistons managed only eight off of 16 Memphis miscues.

The Pistons scored 30 points in Friday’s first half, by which time it didn’t look like the flame throwers stationed near their basket to accompany Mason’s inimitable pregame introductions would be enough to light their fuse.

But Brandon Knight was.

Coming off perhaps the most sluggish offensive half the NBA’s lowest-scoring team had yet played, Knight in the first nine minutes of the third quarter alone scored 12 points, making 3 of 5 shots while – of even greater encouragement – getting to the free-throw line six times and making all of them. In the process, he helped the Pistons cut 16 points off of a 23-point deficit and give glimpses of what they think his future holds.

“We basically just came in (the locker room at halftime) and talked to each other as a team first and then with the coaching staff and tried to take it upon ourselves to be aggressive and come out with a lot more energy, a lot more intensity, a lot more fire and play the way we know we’re capable of playing,” said Knight, who finished with 22 points, one off of his season high.

“As a team, we know when we’re getting better and when we’re not giving effort. For us, it’s easy to gauge. We can tell we’re getting better. We’ve been competing a lot more. We’ve been trying to put it out on the court a lot more. It’s just a matter of doing it for an entire game instead of just stretches.”

Knight logged 35 minutes on a night the Pistons were severely depleted in the backcourt. Both Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey were missing, as was Charlie Villanueva from the frontcourt, and that meant that newly signed Walker Russell Jr. – who awoke in Sioux Falls, S.D., before dawn – had to be called on for 20 minutes without benefit of having gone through so much as the morning shootaround.

Russell helped give the Pistons a little bit of a jolt in the first half, making a few crowd-pleasing passes – a deep lob to Austin Daye that Daye couldn’t convert among them – in front of a crowd that numbered his father, former Piston Walker D. Russell, among it.

“Brandon was a bright spot,” Lawrence Frank said. “He ignited us. I thought Walker in that first half gave us energy and then Brandon in the second half gave us great energy and everyone kind of came along. But when you put yourself in that situation, you’ve got to play near-perfect basketball.”

The Pistons were anything but. They coughed the ball up 25 times to 16 for Memphis, but the difference in cost was staggering. While the Pistons only converted Memphis’ miscues into eight points, the Grizzlies punished the Pistons with 32 points off of turnovers.

“At one point it was 11 turnovers for 18 points,” Frank said. “A third of their points were off turnovers – 32 points off of our 25 turnovers. Those are back breaking. If that’s the first pass to their fast break, those are crippling.”

“It’s just concentration,” Ben Gordon said. “There’s no excuse to just throw the ball away and be as careless as we are at times. It’s just a matter of us focusing and concentrating better. I thought our effort was spotty. We came out and made a concerted effort in the third quarter to step up our intensity level, be more aggressive and that’s something we didn’t do consistently throughout the game. That was pretty much the key to the game.”

Knight committed four turnovers, but game by game he’s learning how to pick his spots.

“It’s still a very big learning process as to when to attack and when not to, how to position yourself when you’re driving,” he said. “As a rookie, it’s tough to get calls at certain times of the games. You’ve got to get completely killed to get a call sometimes. I’m just tyring to be aggressive and stay positive no matter what the situation is – continue to attack, continue to try to life your teammates, continue to provide intensity, provide positive spirit for everybody.”

“He’s learning,” Frank said. “This is a process. The step for most players, when they come from college to the NBA, is how to play pick-and-roll basketball. At Kentucky, they ran some pick and roll, but it was more dribble handoffs. Now you’re going against the best. It’s one thing to get in the lane; it’s another to find solutions. It will be an ongoing thing. Brandon is a very, very quick study.”

When he came out of the game for good, with 3:40 left, another ex-Kentucky Wildcat, Tayshaun Prince, pulled him aside for the better part of a minute and gave him measured advice and encouragement before sending him to the bench with a pat.

“Just continue to attack,” Knight said Prince told him. “And continue to get our team, our spirits, up. He said, ‘Good job attacking, good job bringing us back,’ and as I attack, get others involved, too. It means a lot. He’s been to a place I’m trying to get as far as the type of player he is. He wants the best for our team. Just to have your veterans talk to you and try to lead you in the right direction shows our team is trying to get better.”