Net Loss

2 tying attempts in final seconds miss, Pistons fall to New Jersey

TEAM COLORS

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

– Pick a Williams, any Williams. New Jersey had just eight healthy players in uniform and half of them were a Williams – Deron, Shelden and Shawne in the starting lineup and rookie big man Jordan off the bench. They all had a hand in the Nets’ 99-96 win. Deron, the difference-maker for the Nets and the pending free agent who holds the future of the franchise in his hands, led the charge with 26 points, nine assists and three rebounds. Shelden, a journeyman center starting while Brook Lopez’s broken foot mends, added nine points and 11 boards in leading the Nets to a whopping 44-31 rebounding advantage. Shawne chipped in with 11 points and five boards and Jordan had nine points and eight rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Knight denied hitting the rookie wall earlier in the week, but he’d averaged just six points and two assists per game over the first three games of the road trip before the New Jersey finale. He had a noticeable bounce in his step against the Nets, though, several times speeding ahead of the pack to create scoring chances. Knight finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists and his 3-point attempt at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime bounced off the back rim. He got plenty of help, too, from backup point guard Walker D. Russell Jr., who had his best game since joining the Pistons out of the D-League. Russell, playing 21 minutes because of an ankle injury suffered by Rodney Stuckey, scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and added two assists.

RED FLAG – The 3-point line was lethal to the Pistons on their four-game road. They were outscored by 18 points at the arc against Philadelphia, 27 against Milwaukee, 18 against New York and nine in the finale with the Nets. While the Pistons shot 12 of 47, their opponents shot a deadly 36 of 73 coming in. Only four NBA teams attempt fewer 3-point shots than the Pistons’ 13.3 per game, so even though they rank in the middle of the pack (14th) in shooting percentage from the arc, they’re getting outscored by an average of 5.1 points per game at the 3-point line – nearly half of their minus-11.1 per game scoring differential. The Pistons went into Wednesday’s game 29th in the league in opposition 3-point percentage at .387. The only team worse? The Nets, at .408.

NEWARK, N.J. – If misery loves company, the Pistons couldn’t have asked for a better gym mate to wind up a crushing road trip than the New Jersey Nets. Down to eight healthy players – one of them, Keith Bogans, signed earlier in the day – the Nets gave the Pistons a chance to end a four-game, five-night venture into the jaws of the NBA schedule on an uptick.

The Pistons weren’t exactly the picture of health – physical, mental or otherwise. With Ben Gordon, Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva unavailable and Rodney Stuckey subpar after spraining his right ankle in the first half, they managed to overcome an 11-point deficit anyway to take a brief lead late in the third quarter and were tied at 88 midway through the fourth.

After three straight 20-point beatings and playing their third game in three nights, maybe the legs weren’t willing and maybe the psyche was a little too bruised. But they showed something, at least to themselves, in fighting back and having a chance to win despite their frailties and hardships. New Jersey had to withstand a tying shot attempt from Tayshaun Prince with two seconds left and a Brandon Knight three to tie at the buzzer to win 99-96, handing the Pistons their seventh straight loss.

“It felt good,” Knight said of his tying attempt. “It didn’t go in, but we ended up getting a decent look. Shots don’t always fall. We got the shot we wanted, but it just didn’t go down.”

“We showed some character,” said Jonas Jerebko, who scored 14 off the bench on a night Lawrence Frank moved Jason Maxiell into the starting lineup at power forward for Ben Wallace just to see what a Maxiell-Greg Monroe combination might yield and to gauge if the new mix could prevent the slow starts that dogged the Pistons on every other game of the trip. “Third game in three days – you can’t blame it on that, but at least we showed we could come out with some energy after our third game. Of course, we wanted a win, but we gave ourselves a chance and showed we can come back. Now we have to do it for 48 minutes instead of whatever we put up today.”

The Pistons registered several strong individual performances. Prince was outstanding, scoring 21 points with six boards and four assists on 9 of 15 shooting, with at least a few of his misses tough ones to beat the shot clock. Knight had scored just 18 points in the previous three games and seemed to lack his explosive quickness, but it was on full display against the Nets as he logged 43 minutes and scored 15 points to go with five boards and four assists against a single turnover. Walker D. Russell Jr. had his finest outing, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds in 21 minutes.

After trailing 49-38 at halftime, the Pistons scored 58 points in the second half, 33 in the third quarter. Frank saw glimpses of the team he envisioned – a team that shares the ball and exploits what the defense leaves vulnerable.

“Our aggressiveness picked up defensively,” Frank said. “Once we started getting the ball out of (Deron) Williams’ hands, we started making other people make some plays. Tay off high pick and rolls and the ball was moving in our flow game. All of a sudden – we didn’t change anything, didn’t change our offense – and even though Brandon didn’t make threes, they were all open. They were all good, rhythm shots and you live with those. There was progress made on that front.”

The Nets hurt the Pistons off the backboards, especially early, and finished with a 44-31 rebounding margin. They also hurt them from the 3-point line – for the four-game road trip, the Pistons were outscored by an average of 18 points a game from the arc – with the Nets hitting three big ones in the fourth quarter, two early by Jordan Farmar and one at the midway point by Williams to give the Nets a five-point lead.

There was also the obligatory lousy luck that always seems to find struggling teams. With the Nets up four and just under three minutes to play, Russell made a heads-up defensive play, poking the ball away from Farmar from behind. It could have easily led to a transition layup for Russell, but instead the loose ball darted right to Williams, who redirected it to Kris Humphries for an uncontested dunk.

“Our guys showed real character and grit,” Frank said. “Three games in a row, fifth game in six nights, there were opportunities where it could’ve gone south. We kept fighting, put ourselves in position to win the game and had shots to tie the game. It didn’t work.”

They’ll come home now to play Milwaukee on Friday and New Orleans on Saturday, hoping for the same character and grit – and maybe even a lucky bounce to go their way, for a change.