Misfiring vs. Memphis
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.”